Tuesday, April 28, 2009

World Movie Series - 24 - Safar e Ghandehar

We enjoy our lives. We have everything, and life is a swansong for most of us. Our women express their thoughts, concerns and ideas to their friends and the outside world. Imagine the situation where women are not even allowed to show their faces to their husbands. Imagine a place where women have to walk around fully covered by a burka, and the place where musical instruments are totally banned, and the mere possession could bring you death. A place where books are a taboo and a place where you can’t even clap, as clapping is a taboo too. A place where kite flying is prohibited. A place where you can’t trim the beard, as it is against the law. A place where statues are destroyed since it is totally against the law.

Feels like hell, isn’t it? Welcome to the world of Taliban.

‘Kandahar’ is about the perilous journey of a woman from Canada when she comes to know about her sister’s suicide attempt in Kandahar – a city of Afghanistan.

The film begins when Nafas - a Canadian Afghan – is on her way to Kandahar to stop her sister from committing suicide on the last solar eclipse of the 20th century. She has received a letter from her sister, who was left behind when the family escaped to Canada, stating about her suicide. She manages to reach Iran without trouble, and the journey from Iran to Afghanistan is a perilous one, she is being told. But since she has only 2-3 days left for the eclipse, she insists on the travel and so, joins a family which is moving to Kandahar, its native city, from Iran.

While on the way in an Auto - an automobile which runs in three wheels (yes! An Auto), they are moving through a desert, and are robbed. Having lost all their possessions including the auto to the robbers, the family decides to return back to Iran, as they feel it’s hazardous to continue the journey, but to Nafas, she has to travel to Kandahar at any cost. Hence, she seeks the help of a boy who has been dispelled from a Madrasah for being not able to recite the Qu’ran perfectly.

The boy agrees to show her the correct route, but demands money as he and his mom are the only members of the family and they need money to survive, as he is expelled from his school. She agrees to pay him 50 dollars. The boy takes her through the desert, and on seeing a skeleton, he takes out its golden ring and pleads Nafas to buy it. He keeps on saying to her that it suites her eyes perfectly, but she refuses to buy it.

She becomes ill while walking in the desert and the boy takes Nafas to a local doctor. The doctor is an African-American Islam convert and is able to talk English and Nafas comes to know that he has a false beard, as it is customary for Afghan people to grow beards. The doctor explains about the Taliban’s rules to Nafas, and he agrees to guide her through the rest of the journey.

They hire a cart and the journey continues through the desert. At one point, Nafas witnesses many people with mutilated legs. The doctor tells her that they were the result of the landmines buried in and around Kandahar. A majority of these people don’t have proper prosthetic legs and they keep complaining to the Red Cross about it. They plead the Red Cross to give them good prosthetic legs but since there is no stock, the Red Cross can’t do anything.

Nafas suddenly witnesses the people running away in a flock, and she sees false legs being dropped from the airplanes. The people run to the place where the legs are dropped and collect them.

Now, the journey has reached a particular place after which the doctor doesn’t want to continue and he decides to return in the cart. The cart’s driver and Nafas keep walking in the desert when they encounter a marriage party on its way to Kandahar. They both join the party saying that they are the relatives of the groom. Since everyone is burka-clad, there is no suspicion. Even the driver is clad in the burka.

Some time later, the party is stopped by Taliban, and they start checking on every member. They discover that there are some males in the party, and they are taken away. Woman who were possessing books and musical instruments also are taken away, and the rest are freed. Nafas is unveiled and is captured too.

The movie ends with Nafas hearing the sound of guns being fired at the unfortunate captured people. Nafas never reaches Kandahar, and we presume that she too dies in the hands of the Taliban.

‘Kandahar’- released in 2001 and directed by acclaimed Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf - is a touching film which portrays the idiosyncrasies of the Taliban. All the people we see in the film are affected, one way or the other. Nafas keeps recording all the incidents she witnesses in her pocket tape-recorder, and she loses that too, to the Taliban at the end.

This film narrates how backward Afghanistan is in the hands of the Taliban. There was no improvement in any sector. The only improvisation in Afghanistan is the weapons.

There are many powerful scenes in this movie. The sight of men hopping fiercely to pick the prosthetic legs is a touching scene. Also the scenes involving the little boy pleading to Nafas to buy the ring and the scenes where the family is getting robbed, creates an impact on the viewer.

The movie was filmed in Iran, but some parts of it were filmed secretly in Afghanistan as well. The movie was screened in many film festivals and it won the Federico Fellini Prize – UNESCO in the year 2001.

The music was realistic, and throughout the film, I was amazed with the ‘Suprabatha’ of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, repeatedly being played at the background throughout. Also, the voice of Bhimsen Joshi (I presume) adds emotion to the film, in the background.

The role of the doctor is played by Hassan Tantai AKA David Belfield and is under accusation in the United States for the murder of Iranian Diplomat Ali Akbar Tabatabai in 1980.

The actress Nelofer Pazira, who played as Nafas, says in an interview that “"It's the awareness of the rest of the world that could bring change. I am an optimist in that sense. With Kandahar, we tried our best - we set up a little movie theatre in the village, we started a school for women and we introduced them to a world they'd never seen before. That could be a crack in the wall. Much more could be done practically, but I can't simply do it. We've done our little share of responsibility. Now I want people to take this message away and think about it."

Overall, Kandahar is a striking film which shows us the reality prevailing in Afghanistan.

What are we going to do about it?

See the trailer here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

World Movie Series - 23 - Bin-Jip

This is the third Kim Ki-Duk film I am reviewing, and seeing his films, something stands common to all his movies. The hardships of a relationship. The pain inflicted by the relationships is portrayed in most of his movies, and with a startling effect. He makes use of the other aspects like nature, surroundings, people etc... with ease to portray the sting of a relationship. That works out very well, and we are left with a breathtaking experience after watching his films. The same goes with ‘3-Iron’ as well.

The film begins with Tae-Suk, riding his bike. He works as a delivery boy with some restaurant, and his work is to paste the menus on the doors of the houses. In the night, he returns to the same area and breaks in to the houses whose menus have not been removed (assuming the inhabitants are away). He spends his night in those vacant houses hearing music and watching TV and in return to the hospitality, washes the cloths and mends the broken electronic instruments in the houses. He also takes a photograph of himself in every house he breaks into.

The second house we see Tae-Suk break in is a vast one, with a nice garden. He casually checks every room, and in one of those rooms, a lady sits against the door, crying. Tae-Suk, totally unaware of her presence, roams around the house, with the lady watching him. He learns that the lady is a model – there are lots of photographs of her in the house. While he is strolling, the phone rings and we hear the voice of an angry man – shouting that he has become an animal out of rage and this will not happen again. He repeatedly asks the lady to pick the phone, but hangs up (the first ever time we hear someone speak in the film – well over ten minutes from the start). Tae-Suk looks at an album, which contains her nude photographs, and after washing the cloths and playing some golf in the garden, he begins to masturbate looking at the photographs.

It was at this situation that the lady walks straight in to the bedroom. A startled Tae-Suk jumps out of the bed and afflicted by guilt, dresses up and starts to leave, when the phone rings again. The lady picks up the receiver, and after a long silence, lets out a terrible wail.

We then see her husband running in to the house. He starts to abuse her angrily when he sees Tae-Suk - silently walking across and starts to play golf in the garden - to divert the husband’s attention. When the husband runs to him, Tae-Suk hits him with golf balls and leaves him twitching in pain. He goes out, starts his bike, and accelerates the throttle repeatedly, as a sign to the lady to come with him. The lady comes to him and they both start on a ride.

Here begins an unspoken journey. Tae-Suk and the lady never talk with each other and the lady helps him in this night stints in the empty houses by washing the cloths and cooking for him. The couple continues to visit houses in this fashion until in one such house, they find a dead man.

The man is dead and has a pool of blood nearby. Tae-Suk gives a call to the dead man’s son whose number he found near the phone, but there is no response. The lady and Tae-Suk then pack the body in accordance with the Korean tradition and bury it. While they are having food, the son rushes in to the house calling for his father, and he finds the couple instead. He locks the door and calls the police.

In the police station, the police are able to identify the lady with her credentials and they call her husband. The husband comes and takes the lady home, and while leaving, tries to hit Tae-Suk with some golf balls for revenge.

The police learn that the death was due to lung cancer, and hence Tae-Suk is acquitted. But the police accept money from the lady’s husband and deliver a tied down Tae-Suk to him. He starts hitting Tae-Suk with golf balls and while an aggravated Tae-Suk tries to strangle the husband with his handcuffs, he is beaten and arrested by the corrupt cops.

Back in the station, Tae-Suk seems to play a game of hide and seek inside his lockup. Whenever the food arrives, he tries to hide himself by standing close to the prison wall near the gate, but the annoyed guard beats him up every time. Once, he climbs up the wall and stays perched on the wall till he is dragged down and beaten.

Back in the lady’s home, the husband tries to cope up with the lady but she moves away every time he comes hear her. He starts to beat her in frustration.

Tae-Suk, this time, starts to practice a type of a martial art in the prison where he tries to stalk the guard by standing behind him in the ‘180 degrees’ which is beyond the perspective of the human eye, so that he cannot be seen. The guard finds this out, turns, and beats Tae-Suk severely.

After some days, again we see Tae-Suk practice some mysterious sort of a martial art, by drawing the image of an eye in his palm, and trying to disappear. One day, while the guard comes in to supply his lunch, Tae-Suk had totally vanished! The guard brings in guards, and when they open the cell, they find Tae-Suk inside, and they finally decide to release him.

From then on, mysterious happenings are seen in the houses Tae-Suk visited previously. Things seem to be displaced from their location, and people feel the presence of a human. We also see the lady, entering a house they previously visited, and sleeping in the couch, when the house owner looks at her in amazement and decides not to disturb her.

The husband comes to know about Tae-Suk’s release, and he waits in the house, expecting him to arrive at any time. He feels the presence of a person that night, but is unable to locate him. While he is sleeping, the lady slowly walks to the mirror, and in the mirror, she is able to see Tae-Suk standing behind her. He gently kisses her.

The husband rushes to the mirror, but is unable to see Tae-Suk. The lady smiles at him and says ‘I Love You’, that was to Tae-Suk standing invisible behind the husband. The next day, the lady happily prepares food and while she offers them on the table, Tae-Suk eats them invisibly.

The husband leaves to the office, and Tae-Suk kisses the wife. We hear beautiful music being played in the background, and the movie ends with the caption ‘Sometimes, we don’t have a clue about the things happening to us are dreams or its just reality’.

‘3-Iron’ is a movie where we don’t get answers to some questions. It’s the sort of a film where the viewer has to assume certain facts. We don’t know who Tae-Suk is and how does he possess the mysterious disappearing skills. It is purely left to our conscience to understand.

The camera work is pleasing, and the lighting is perfect. The movie takes place mostly in the city, unlike Kim Ki-Duk’s ‘spring, summer, fall, winter…and spring’ or ‘The Isle’ but even then, he has donned a remarkable role as a director, with all those wonderful shots.

As like his previous movies, this film too is silent for most scenes. The protagonists don’t speak a single word till the end (when we hear the lady saying I Love You to Tae-Suk).

It’s a very different attempt in cinema. Not many of the contemporary directors can create movies which glorify silence. Silence has been depicted a very important role in the movie, and it’s like the personification of affection.

It’s to be noted that Director Kim Ki-Duk wrote the screenplay of the movie in one month, the movie was filmed in 16 days and the film editing was done in 10 days.

Again, Kim Ki-Duk proves his mettle, and ‘3-Iron’ remains to be a celluloid poem, crafted by one of the greatest directors the world movie industry has ever seen.

See the trailer here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

World Movie Series - 22 - Citade De Deus

There is a lot of news these days about criminals. Are they born as criminals? However bad they might be, how do they become criminals and a menace to society? What is the root cause? If we start exploring their lives from their birth, there will be one moment – a single incident - which triggered the aftereffects. We will know that only from that incident, the person has transformed in to a criminal.

What if we witness the life of a criminal from his close quarters? What if we travel along with him in his life’s journey, witnessing every incident in his life?

‘City of God’ is one such film which excellently portrays the story of a young criminal ‘Li’l Zi’.

The film begins in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in the sixties. We see chickens getting prepared for a feast. Everywhere its music and joy and people – mostly teenagers and young boys - are in a state of madness. One chicken escapes from the feast, and people start to chase the chicken frantically. We see a teenage boy – ‘Li’’l Zi’ – whom we don’t have a clue about – chasing the chicken and starts shooting it with his gun. The chicken enters a narrow lane and on the other side, we see another teenager of the same age – walking with his friend. The friend tells this guy that he will be killed by ‘Li’l Zi’ once he sees him. Suddenly, there appears the chicken before this guy, and behind it, Li’l Zi with his gun.

Li’l Zi shouts at the guy to catch the chicken. Slowly, the bewildered guy moves to catch it when we see police cars arrive at his back – the other end of the street. Suddenly Li’l Zi and his men start cocking their weapons and the chicken catcher understands his predicament. He is caught in the middle of a war and anyways he will be shot.

While he is frozen in his bent position, we hear his voice at the background, telling that his name is Rocket, and how he got himself in to this awkward situation, is the story he is going to narrate.

The camera rotates around him, and when it completes a circle, we se a small Rocket – in his early years – bent in the same position. They are playing football. Rocket narrates the story of three gangsters – Rocket’s elder bro Goose, Clipper and Shaggy. They three are the young rebels in the City of God, the place in Janeiro where all the poor people and castaways live. The trio loots money from the rich and distributes it to the poor people in the livelihood and hence are always sheltered by the people.

The trio plans for a heist. To make big money – and Li’l Dice – a small boy – gives them an idea to loot the nearby motel. They go on, place Li’l Dice as the watchdog and while robbing the motel along with its inhabitants, hear a warning shot from Li’l Dice and flee. After a while, back in the city of god, they learn that many people were murdered in the motel. The police track down the trio and two of the trio dies. One guy joins the church.

We now are shown what happened in the motel. We see Li’l Dice fire the warning shot, and after the trio flees, he enters the motel, shoots everyone and runs away. While he is counting the money along with his friend Benny, we see Goose approaching them and forcefully taking all their money and while he walks away, gets shot by Li’l Dice and dies.

The period is the seventies now, and Li’l Dice has grown to be the don of that place – changing his name to Li’l Zi. Rocket too grows up, but he is afraid towards the criminals and joins college. He joins the hippy group in the college which enjoys smoking weed and drinking. We learn that Carrot, a local drug dealer, is the only opponent to Li’l Zi.

Li’l Zi’s friend Benny is the mastermind behind all his operations. At one point of time, Benny is tired of all the gangster stuff and decides to call it quits. He makes friends with the hippy gang and with Rocket. He gradually woos Rocket’s girl and after her advice, decides to quit the criminal game. He hosts a final party before he leaves, and in the party, gets shot by a man aiming at Li’l Zi and dies.

Li’l Zi knows that the murderer was sent by Carrot, his only opponent. While Li’l Zi marches towards Carrot’s place along with his gang, he witnesses a young girl walking along with her boyfriend, and since the girl ignores him, humiliates the boyfriend – named Knockout Ned – a kindhearted gentleman and rapes the girl in front of Ned.

He then attacks Ned’s house and kills his uncle too. A heartbroken Ned is approached by Carrot and ultimately he joins carrot’s gang. Then starts the bloodiest gang war the city has ever witnessed – Li’l Zi trying to wipe out Carrot and Carrot retaliating.

In the mean time, Rocket doesn’t want to stay in such a hell of a city and joins a news paper. Since the magazine publishes Carrot’s photographs, Li’l Zi is offended and he thinks his photograph should also be published so that the people will get to know who the real criminal is. Since Rocket is good with the camera, Li’l Zi sends word for Rocket and makes him to photograph him and his gang in various poses.

The pictures accidentally get published in the paper and Rocket is sure he will be killed by Li’l Zi. The next day, he is approached by the magazine to shoot more photographs of the gang war. Since they offer him good money, Rocket goes to the city with his camera, and it was at this situation when the chicken was chased by Li’l Zi and landed exactly in front of Rocket in the opening scene.

Seeing Rocket, Li’l Zi asks him to take the pictures of his gang again, and while Rocket prepares for the shot, the police arrive and the fight begins. Rocket flees from the place, hiding somewhere nearby and taking pictures of the fight. Knockout Ned is killed by a boy from his own gang whose father was killed by Ned in a bank robbery earlier.

The police capture Li’l Zi and Carrot and while Carrot is being taken to the station to be shown to the press, Li’l Zi is frisked and all the money he had is being stolen by the police. Rocket takes pictures of everything. After the police are gone, the local Runts – a pack of small children who were robbing the city earlier and who were thrashed by Li’l Zi - arrive and they shoot and kill Zi, as Zi has murdered one of their boys earlier while stopping them.

Rocket has photographed everything, and he thinks about publishing the photographs in his magazine. Since the photographs of the corrupt cops will bring him danger, he decides to publish the photographs of Li’l Zi alone.

While Rocket is walking, we see the Runts talking about the people in the city who have to be killed, and they make a list. The film ends here.

‘City of God’ - a Portuguese film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Co-directed by Kátia Lund, is a strikingly made film about the young boys becoming in to gangsters. It has been filmed based on a Portuguese novel by the same name. Most of the actors were local lads.

The film features so many innovative attempts with the camera and editing and is said to be the trendsetter in these areas. It features many superb non-linear scenes – like the scene where the flashback begins, the scenes where Rocket tells the story of the motel heist, the scenes which shows how Li’l Zi became the local don eliminating his opponents etc.. The lighting is excellent, followed by the realistic music.

The film was not actually shot in Cidade de Deus (city of God) slum as it was too dangerous. It was shot in a neighboring, less dangerous area. Most of the cast were local lads. From initially about the year 2000, about a hundred children and youths were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months. In contrast to more traditional methods (e.g. studying theatre and rehearsing), it focused on simulating authentic street war scenes, such as a hold-up, a scuffle, a shoot-out etc. A lot came from improvisation, as it was thought better to create an authentic, gritty atmosphere. This way, the inexperienced cast soon learned to move and act naturally.

City of God is now at the 17th place in the IMDB’s list of top 250 movies ever and it was also chosen by Times in its list of 100 top movies. A very realistic film indeed, City of God is a wonderful film.

See the trailer here.

Thanks to IMDB and Wikipedia for providing the trivia about the movie.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Charu Nivedita - The rebel with a cause . .

Charu Nivedita - A well known name among Tamil Literary fans and readers. No one has been discussed in the way Charu is being discussed in the internet. If you search the net, you will find a lot of articles, blogs and posts about Charu - either supporting him or vehemently opposing him. But either ways, he can never be ignored.

He has the uncanny ability to keep the reader interested throughout the work right from the firt page to the last. That's a very rare trait in current day's literature. Personally, I have read 90% of Charu's works by now, and I clearly know he is a phenomenon. If one reads his work, he will evidence his primeval thoughts rising up above all the other principles collected from various age old theories which keep floating around, and ultimately these stereotyped principles will be broken. Such is the power of Charu.

Now, his important ten works are on sale. They are offered for a very reasonable price of Rs. 1000\-. I sincerely wish every Tamil reading fan to buy these books and get hooked by Charu's writing. If you want to understand and reciprocate to the society around you (not the fake society created by the political parties and pulp magazines), read Charu's works. The experience is quite unique and it will most certainly transform you to the person you want to be - a man with real conscience.

You can purchase the books online by clicking this link.


Try reading them, for a start, and that will be the real tribute for the greatest writer Tamil Nadu has ever seen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A stupid bank, an even more stupid courier office and me!

Sometimes, it just makes me feel I’m living in the 15th Century A.D, seeing how stupid organizations around me function. Especially private banks. There is a four lettered bank starting with H and ending with C with D and F in between. I have my account in this bank. It so happened that I lost my debit card last week, and I applied for a new card. The card has been dispatched through a courier office with the name resembling a blue colored dart, and reached my office today afternoon, and since I was in an another branch, the card was taken away.

Now, I called the courier office to enquire about when will I receive the courier again, and I was informed that the card will be sent to the bank, and it will be re-couriered only after a week. But there is a solution, I was told. If the bank is able to send a mail to the courier company, then the courier will be sent to me tomorrow. Imagine the plight of a person with no debit card! I already have tried withdrawing money using the credit card, and paid a heavy price for it (took out 600 Rs and paid 300 RS as a fine plus 30 RS interest per day – totally I paid 930 RS for the 600 RS I took out).

So, I called the customer service of the bank and told them all they need to do is to send a mail to the courier company so that I can receive my debit card the next day. But, I was curtly told by the lady that there is no such rule of sending mails to the courier company.

I again called the courier office and explained them that the bank is saying they cannot mail. The courier lady stressed that there is a facility available and they can only courier me if they receive the mail. Else I will be receiving my debit card only after a week.

Now I am in to the game. I had started playing it and cannot back out. Hence I called the bank again and explained them the courier company is saying that the bank can indeed send a mail. But the lady talking to me didn’t seem to hear what I am talking, and started her long list of sentences she has mugged up as part of her profession (“sorry sir! No such facility is available blah blah blah and some more blah).

Even after hearing this, I didn’t become irritated. Calming down my mind that everyone are doing their duty, I calmly called the courier company again and started explaining what ever bullshit I have been told by the bank, and this time, the courier lady started to bombard me with her long list of mugged up words.

Only after calling up the bank again that I become furious with the set of idiotic bullshit rules they have which do not serve people absolutely. I am the affected person and I am asking t hem to send the debit card again. But they refuse to do so and are talk absolute nonsense which makes to lose my patience. They keep talking garbage like some zombies who know only a few words. I even wonder, will they talk the same kind of words in their houses too?

Imagine this. Husband asking the wife to being a coffee or something, and immediately gets the automated response ‘Sorry sir! We don’t have such a facility here’... How idiotic!!

I then sent both the bank and the courier office a mail which I have given below.

‘This mail is after getting really tired of talking to the customer care and the courier office. I applied for a new debit card and when it was delivered to the office, I was working in a different branch and as a result, the card went back. Now, the Bluedart people tell me they will be sending the card again immediately if they receive a mail from HDFC. But the customer care people are not getting what I am saying to them. They are telling that there is no such facility available. I am tired talking four times each with the customer care and the Bluedart office.

Why is there a big gap between the courier office and HDFC with the stupid rules? I am in drastic need of the card, and I am just asking you people to deliver it to me again immediately and all I hear is people talking like typical zombies saying "sorry sir! it is not possible! Sorry sir! Such a facility is not available... Blah blah'.

Just tell me is it possible to send it again on Friday or do I have to wait endlessly.’

Let’s see what is going to be the response.

This is totally like I am living before 5 or 6 centuries, where communication has not been efficiently developed, and people were dependent entirely on some means of evidence to carry on certain activities.

I wonder what will happen to poor people if such a thing happens to them. I really felt like taking a baseball bat and walking straight in to the bank and the courier office!

Till the stupid rules are broken, these organizations will be inflicting people with their stupidity. There is no doubt about it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

World Movie Series - 21 - Dayereh

For the first time, saw an Iranian film, and it was again due to reading an article in ‘Alainthu tiribavanin Azhagiyal’ by Charu. He has written about the films from Muslim countries, and hence, bought some good films from Iran and Afghanistan. Yesterday, saw this film, and to be frank, it’s good and touched my heart.

The director Jafar Panahi is an acclaimed director from Iran and has directed good movies like ‘The white balloon’ and ‘The Mirror’. It’s to be noted that while this film was being screened in the U.S, Panahi was arrested at the JFK airport, New York in 2001 for not possessing a transit visa. Although it was not needed, he was arrested mainly since he was a Muslim and was handcuffed and leg-chained and detained in the airport for ten hours along with some other passengers. He refused to submit to a finger printing process and was not allowed to call anyone. Finally, at the end of the ten hours, he was allowed to make a call and as a result proved his identity and even then, was sent back to Hong-Kong, dragged to the flight all the way handcuffed and chained.

Ironically, he was presented the ‘Freedom of expression’ award by the US national board of review of motion pictures.

He rejected the award sending a letter to the board, but the letter was not published in any major U.S newspaper. Read Jafar Panahi’s statement of protest – his letter to the board at this link.

Now, ‘The Circle’ is about three different stories. Or rather, three different agonies suffered by the woman of Iran. It showcases the oppression on Iranian women by the government and the so called ‘strict’ rules inflicted on women. It clearly tells us about how stupid these rules are and how painful it is to be a woman in Iran.

The film begins at a hospital. We hear the agonizing wails of a woman, and soon, we also hear the cries of a baby. The nurse calls the woman’s mother and tells her it’s a girl. The old lady appears startled, and again re-confirms that it’s a girl child. She hurries to her another daughter and tells she doesn’t know what to do, as all the in-laws were expecting a male child, and the girl child will die surely. She orders her daughter to go tell this news to her relatives, as we hear at the background the in-laws fighting with the nurse.

While the girl hurries on the road, we see three women; two of them are called Nargess and Arezou. We learn that they have escaped from the prison and are planning to go to the native village of Nargess. While Nargess gives her gold chain to the third girl to sell it for money, she gets caught by the police and is taken back to custody. Nargess and Arezou now are left with no money. Arezou somehow is able to get some money and she takes Nargess to the bus station. Arezou refuses to go to the village, as she tells she does not want to shatter her own dreams that it will all be sunshine and rainbows in the village. Nargess buys a ticket for the village, but is unable to get in to the bus, as the passengers are frisked by the police. She runs away from the station to the house of another prisoner who escaped along with them, Pari.

At Pari’s house, her parents drive Nargess away asking her not to come there again. Pari escapes from the house, and she runs to a friend of her, Elham, who was her former prison mate, and now is the wife of a doctor, obviously having hid has past from the doctor.

Pari tells Elham she needs an abortion, as her fiancée was executed in the prison and the baby is now four months old. She tells she has tried numerous ways but everywhere they are asking for the papers and her id. Pari pleads Elham to help her out, as her husband himself is a doctor.

Elham is reluctant to help Pari as she is concerned more about her past. If she helps Pari, then her husband will get to know about her past and will divorce her. Hence she says she cannot help Pari, and a disgruntled Pari leaves the place.

Since Pari doesn’t have an id, she cannot stay in any hotel. She is left marooned on the streets, and as she is roaming, she sees a lady with a baby girl. The mother tries to abandon the girl as the baby will get a better future that way. Now, after talking to the lady, Pari runs away.

The mother, after seeing her child taken care by the police, starts to walk in the road, and gets in to a car when a person asks her whether she is interested for the night. As they travel, he stops the car at a check post and we realize that he is a police too, and he doesn’t like women hitchhiking in cars, for prostitution. We see a man begging this guy to be freed, as he was with a prostitute in his car.

While the police man investigates that person, the mother runs away from the place. They arrest the prostitute and ask her to get in to a wan. This prostitute is a very bold woman, as she casually lights her cigarette inside. She is very relaxed and is calm.

At the prison, the police ask her to go in to a lockup, where we find all the women we saw from the beginning of the film. A guard comes and asks for a woman named Solmaz Gholami, the woman who gave birth to a baby girl at the beginning, and the film ends with this shot.

The Circle is a film which talks firmly about the Iranian government’s prejudiced rules on women and has won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2000. It has been banned in Iran, though.

We see in some scenes that the women have to wear a ‘Chador’ (the long cloak used to cover the head and the body). Also, the women are not permitted to go alone without a man anywhere. All the rules in Iran are favorable towards men and have completely abandoned the women.

There is not even a hint of background music in this film totally! I was amazed to see that the lack of music has indeed helped the movie tremendously, as the movie has been filmed in a documentary like fashion. For the entire duration, the camera follows the women intently and there are no artificial shots or cuts or any kind of gimmicks. Almost all the characters, except two, are amateurs.

Another thing I noted is that all the women are in want of cigarettes, and almost all the women have been arrested at least once in Iran. But they seem not to care about this. Also, as Charu writes, the police arrive in almost all the scenes and the women are afraid about the police.

Seeing this film, we realize women are treated in the same way throughout the world. Everywhere they go, they are imposed with some stupid and strict rules on them. The women are losing their happiness and independence ubiquitously. The Circle stands as an example to highlight the fact.

See the trailer here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Trailers are now available . .

Most of the trailers are available for the World Cinema Series. Just go to the respective post and you will find the trailer by clicking at the last line in the post - 'See the trailer here'.

See those trailers and get inspired.

World Movie Series - 20 - Babel

In 2008, ‘thanks’ to Dasavatharam, we heard a lot about Chaos theory. Everywhere, people were discussing how effective the Chaos theory was, in the film. Now, I have already written a review for Dasavatharam and had mentioned that if you want to get a real hold of the Chaos theory, try seeing Babel. I have seen the movie long ago, and it's good that I am posting the review, as part of the World Movie Series.

There are a lot of incidents all over the world, and might appear to be totally unconnected. But, if we take a closer look, we will be startled to find out how organized and connected they are, and how they affect our life. For ex, imagine the oil prices going up. The root cause must have been the price of the crude oil going up. It might have been triggered somewhere, and obviously affects us, down the line. This is an example of a direct effect. Indirectly, there might be numerous such incidents which affect us. We might not know the root cause and how the happenings are interlinked, but obviously we bear the brunt of the incidents.

How does chaos result when a Japanese man casually gives a rifle to a Moroccan man Hassan? Let’s find out.

The movie begins in Morocco inside a bus when Susan and Richard, an American couple, talk about the difficulties in their married life. Susan glares out of the window with a sad feeling, and gets hit suddenly by a bullet. She faints on her husband Richard, and the bus is stopped. We cut to Abdullah, a father of three children and the owner of a herd of goats buying a powerful Winchester rifle (The one used by Tex Willer & Kit Carson in their memorable adventures of Lion Comics) from Hassan, to kill the jackals which keep preying on his herd. Abdullah gives the rifle to his two young sons and sends them with the goatherd. While the goats are roaming, they both jump in an argument about how far they can shoot with the rifle, and Ahmed, the elder son tries to shoot at rocks. Yussef, the younger son grabs the gun from Ahmed and handles it professionally and aims at a bus on a road down below the hill, and shoots. The bus keeps on moving and a disappointed Yussef casually moves away. Suddenly the bus is stopped, and realizing the mistake they have committed, they both flee to home.

The husband Richard calls home, to inform the nanny of their kids. The nanny Amelia is tense, and after talking to Richard, she becomes even more agitated. She was expecting Richard and Susan to arrive soon, and since they are not turning up, she takes the kids to a lady who refuses to baby-sit them, and she hurriedly takes the children with her to Mexico for her son’s wedding.

We cut back to Richard. He takes his wife to the local doctor, who dresses Susan’s wound. Meanwhile, the American passengers want the bus to start, as they want to leave home early and as they fear the locals. They are unsympathetic to Richard and Susan, and secretly move the bus while Richard is attending his wife. Alienated in a foreign land with an estranged language, Richard doesn’t have the slightest clue.

We cut to Japan, where we see Cheiko, a deaf-mute young girl. She is angry towards her father for the suicide of her mother, and is sexually frustrated because of her problem. She starts to exhibit herself by dressing provocatively and trying to garner the attention of the boys of her age. She even tries to behave sexually to her dentist but fails.

We cut to Richard frantically trying to get help in Morocco. We then cut to Amelia, the nanny, traveling to Mexico for her son’s wedding along with the kids. Her nephew Santiago takes them in his car to the wedding. They cross the border and after the wedding, Amelia decides to return to U.S and while crossing the border, they are stopped by the border police. Santiago is drunk heavily and involves in an argument with the police, and when being checked, Amelia doesn’t have the no-objection certificate from the parents of the kids for their travel to Mexico. Being suspected by the police, Santiago suddenly starts the car and drives away.

We see Cheiko, the Japanese girl, trying to experiment sexually. She goes with two boys and drinks and smokes. After a while, she gets to meet two police officers who ask questions about her father. Finding one of them attractive, she invites him home. Thinking that she was questioned for her mother’s suicide, she tells everything about the suicide to the policeman. It was then that the policeman tells her he has come to investigate about a rifle her father sold to a Moroccan, the same rifle which was used by Yussef to shoot the bus in the initial moments of the film.

Cheiko tries to seduce the policeman by appearing nude, and the policeman soothes Cheiko adoringly. He then leaves. He confronts Cheiko’s father who assures the policeman that the rifle was a gift and it was not sold in the black market. The police man offers his condolences to his wife’s suicide and the father shouts back that it was indeed a suicide and he has answered the police many times. He then enters the apartment when a nude Cheiko watches his arrival from the balcony with sadness.

We then see a pathetic Amelia wandering in the desert with the children, as Santiago has fled, fearing the police. Realizing that they all will die eventually in the desert if they don’t go for help, Amelia instructs the kids to stay there and goes for help. She meets a border patrol officer who arrests Amelia. She then tells him about the kids and when the police go the place where the kids are left, they are missing. The police take Amelia to the police station and after a while, the kids are found. The police inform Amelia that she has to be deported to Mexico as she doesn’t have the permit to stay in U.S. In spite of her pitiable protests that she has been staying in the States for sixteen years, she is deported.

Meanwhile, the U.S government treats the attack on Susan as a terrorist activity and pressurizes the Moroccan government to nab the wrongdoers. The Moroccan police trace the rifle back to Hassan and investigate him and find out that he has sold the rifle to Abdullah. The police rush to Abdullah’s home and while they ask the route to the elder son Ahmed, he smells the danger and misguides them. Running back to home, he warns Abdullah and he escapes along with his sons. Eventually, the police surround them, and while Ahmed gets hit by the firing, Yussef starts shooting at the police, injuring an officer. Ahmed is again shot and is apparently killed. Seeing his father’s agony and grief, Yussef then surrenders to the police, and confesses everything.

We cut to Richard, getting help finally, after contacting the US embassy in Morocco, as a helicopter arrives at the scene, and Susan is taken to the hospital and recovers after a few days.

The film ends with a telephonic conversation involving Richard and Amelia. It was the same phone call which was made when Richard called home to tell about the accident in the beginning of the film, when Amelia was getting ready for her son’s wedding. He tells that he is allowing Amelia to go for the wedding as Susan’s sister will be able to baby-sit the kids. But we know that it didn’t happen and Amelia was forced to take the kids back to Mexico and the aftereffects.

Babel is an example of chaos theory. The chain of interconnected events triggered by a very small incident. Directed by Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu, it was released in 2006 in English. Nominated for seven academy awards, it won its lone Oscar for the best music category.

Almost the entire film was shot using the hand held camera. Only Richard and Susan's segment was shot on 16 mm film; the rest of the movie was shot on 35 mm. In the scene where the helicopter finally arrives at the village, there is a slight pause as the 35 mm format kicks in (thanks: IMDB).

Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu is acclaimed for the non-linier screenplay formats he uses. His first ever film, Amores Perros has already been featured in our World Movie Series. A brilliant example of Chaos theory and intelligent film making, Babel stands as a perfect result from a perfect director.

PS: - The title Babel refers to the story of tower of Babel, in chapter 11 of the book of genesis. It was built by the people of Babylon to demonstrate the glory of man and to make the builders famous. God, infuriated by this act of egoism, scattered the people throughout the world, making it difficult for them to unite again. Hence, Babel refers to the problem people face belonging to different castes and languages, and is focused in this film.

See the trailer here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

World Movie Series - 19 - Rashomon

Here comes the superstar. When writing about the movie, it’s like writing about Amitabh Bachchan, or Rajnikanth or Sean Connery. There is nothing more to write about Rashomon, coz already loads of pages have been written about this film. A very popular one, among world movie fans. It has been a trend setter in many aspects, and even now, it never bores the audience and still withstands the flow of time. I can go on and on writing about this film. One of my most favorite movies.

How can we determine the difference between truth and false? If a person tells us something, how can we identify the truth or the untruth behind the message? What appears as truth to a person might appear false to another. It entirely depends on our intellect to settle on the result.

‘Rashomon’ is one such film about the same story recited by four different people and which appears different every time. It’s a unique, fresh screenplay and has inspired thousands of films till date (virumandi is an example).

The film begins at an old ruined temple named Rashomon. It’s a huge downpour, and two people – a woodcutter and a priest - are sitting at the temple. We see a man running in to the temple to seek refuge from the rain. When he settles inside, we see the woodcutter muttering to himself that it’s incredible, and it’s not true; everybody are lying. Curious to know what he meant, the traveler sits near the woodcutter, and he starts to recount the story.

Story of the woodcutter

Three days ago, the woodcutter goes in to the forest to cut wood, and he discovers a woman's hat. He goes further down and finds a rope and a samurai’s headgear. While moving further inside, he suddenly finds a dead body. Terrified, he runs to the police.

We cut to the woodcutter testifying to the judges. He says he was the one who found the dead body and there was nobody near it. We then see another person testifying that he captured the bandit ‘Tajomaru’ at the bank of a river. The bandit Tajomaru says since he drank poisoned water at the spring, he fell down at the bank, and was captured.

Story of Tajomaru

Tajomaru begins to narrate his story. He was sleeping in the forest and gets awakened by the sound of a horse and he sees a beautiful woman on a horse and a samurai accompanying her. They cross Tajomaru and he decides to have the woman. He follows them and confronts them deep inside the jungle. He lies to the samurai that there are a lot of swords he has buried inside, and he can sell them to a cheap price. The samurai agrees, and leaving the woman near a river, they both walk. Tajomaru points to a place where he says the swords have been hidden, and when the samurai walks to get them, Tajomaru attacks him. Tajomaru ties the person down, and rapes the woman. While he tries to leave, the woman pleads to him that she will be the wife of only one person since she doesn’t want two men to know about her shame and so they both have to fight. Tajomaru claims that the samurai fought with valor but finally Tajomaru was able to kill the samurai. He further adds that after seeing him kill the samurai, the woman must have fled, and being asked by the juries about the expensive dagger which the samurai had, Tajomaru says he has forgotten it and he is foolish enough to leave it behind.

Story of the woman

We cut back to the wood cutter and he says Tajomaru’s story was false and he lied. The traveler asks woodcutter to continue the story and he starts narrating the story of the woman, who was captured by the police.

The woman says that after being raped by Tajomaru, he left her in the forest. Unable to withstand her husband’s piercing eyes, she cries and begs him to kill her, as she is now shameful after being raped. The samurai doesn’t reply and keeps staring the woman with a cold glance, tormenting her. She finally faints with a dagger in her hand, and when she awakens, the samurai is dead. She doesn’t know how it happened.

Story of the dead samurai

We cut to the woodcutter again, and he adds that the woman’s story too is false. The traveler then asks him to continue and he starts telling the story of the dead samurai himself, who spoke with the help of a medium.

The samurai’s ghost tells that it is suffering in the darkness of hell, and it was due to the words he heard the woman speak. The ghost had never heard words similar to those anywhere. After being raped by Tajomaru, he asks the woman to come with him. She accepts but asks Tajomaru to kill her husband. A shocked Tajomaru grabs the woman and asks the samurai to give him the verdict of killing the woman or setting her free. The ghost adds that hearing these words, he forgave the thug. The woman flees from the place, and Tajomaru chases her. After many hours, he returns empty handed and sets the samurai free and leaves. The samurai kills himself with the dagger after a while. The ghost adds that after sometime, someone removed the dagger from its chest.

We cut to the woodcutter and he shouts that the ghost's story too is false, as the samurai was killed by the sword and not the dagger. It clearly indicates that the woodcutter might have removed the dagger from the dead body.

Story of the wood cutter, again

Now, after reciting the three stories, the woodcutter says he knew the real story, and he didn’t narrate it before the juries since he didn’t want to get involved. He then narrates what happened. While the wood cutter was going inside the forest, he witnesses the rape and the woman being begged by Tajomaru to marry him. The woman frees the samurai, telling she can’t decide about it. The samurai tells he doesn’t want to be with such a woman, and will be more interested in his horse, than the woman. Hearing the samurai, Tajomaru loses his interest and begins to leave. The woman then shouts at both Tajomaru and the samurai that both of them are not qualified to have her, as the samurai didn’t look after her with compassion, and Tajomaru is afraid to take her away. Hearing this, both Tajomaru and the samurai start to fight with each other, and Tajomaru is able to kill the samurai finally. The woman screams witnessing the samurai’s death and flees away and Tajomaru is not able to chase her coz of his injuries.

The woodcutter concludes the story, and the traveler laughs at the woodcutter. He says he didn’t believe this story, and enquires about the dagger. Their conversation gets interrupted by the sound of a baby crying, and they discover a baby at a corner of the building. The traveler takes the kimono (expensive overcoat) and the baby’s amulet with him and tries to run away, and while the woodcutter tries to stop him, the traveler questions him about the dagger. Since the wood cutter had stolen the dagger, he doesn’t have the rights to stop him. The woodcutter becomes gloomy, realizing his guilt. The traveler further adds that it’s a selfish world around them, and each man is concerned ONLY about his own safety, and runs away.

The priest, seeing the woodcutter taking the baby, runs and stops him. The wood cutter says he already has 6 children, and the baby will not make a difference. Understanding that the woodcutter has realized his guilt, the priest allows him to move away. The rain has stopped, and the wood cutter leaves with the baby. The film ends.

‘Rashomon’ is a different story which talks more about the inner self of the people around us. Everyone talks as if they are good and the people around them are bad and crooked. This becomes evident from all the four stories, where the narrators portrayed themselves as good people.

Rashomon successfully experimented many trendsetting aspects. This was the first film which filmed the sun directly (while the woodcutter walks inside the forest, some shots show the sun, to create the impact of the woodcutter walking). Also, mirrors were used instead of silver foils to reflect light on the characters.

The water during the downpour scenes was tinted with black dye, as the background of the temple made the water very light, and Kurosawa tinted the water to create the impact of a heavy rain.

The camera work is stunning in the picture. Kazuo Miyagawa, a very experienced cinematographer, has done a great work.

During shooting, the cast approached Kurosawa en masse with the script and asked him, "What does it mean?" The answer Kurosawa gave at that time and also in his biography is that "Rashomon" is a reflection of life, and life does not always have clear meanings (thanks: IMDB).

Often credited as the reason the Academy created the "Best Foreign Film" category. Also, The title of the film has recently been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as describing "...resembling or suggestive of the film Rashomon, esp. in being characterized by multiple conflicting or differing ... interpretations." (Thanks: IMDB).

Rashomon was released in 1950 and received the best foreign film award at the Oscars. A cult film indeed, Rashomon is the result of a lateral thinking genius named Akira Kurasawa. Try seeing the film, and get to know about the skill of Kurasawa.

See the trailer here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

World Movie Series - 18 - Das Leben der Anderen

We are living our casual life in this vast world. Life is going absolutely smooth. We have friends, relatives and our own well wishers, and there is nothing to complain. Imagine suddenly that our life is getting monitored, archived, and a report is being prepared about our everyday activities. It’s painful to know that every second of our life is spied. Even all the intimate moments we had. What will be our state of mind? How will we react?

‘Lives of Others’ is one such film about the ruthless government which spies on its own people.

The film starts in 1984 in East Germany. There was a government organization called STASI (The ministry for state security) in East Germany, which served as the official secret service. The duty of STASI is to monitor people whom it thinks as rebels, and to find out any revolution plans and nip it in the bud.

We see STASI captain Weisler interrogating a person. He keeps telling the same thing that he didn’t help in any means for the escape of a rebel. The captain asks him to narrate the events which happened on a particular date repeatedly. Even after many hours, the person begs for sleep, but the captain again asks him to narrate the events.

We cut to the captain giving a lecture in a college. The captain plays the interrogation tape, and explains about liers. He tells that the person was lying as he says the same thing line by line every time he narrates about the incident, and these kinds of people have to be identified from the innocent. Finally, the person gives a name.

We then see Weisler talking to Col. Grubitz. They both attend a play, and Weisler points to the playwright Georg Drayman, tells to Grubitz there is something which is not alright about the writer. Grubitz tells Dreyman is a strict nationalist but a German minister Hempf asks Grubitz to monitor Drayman, and Grubitz in turn assigns the work to Weisler. At the end of the play, the minister praises the actress Christa-Maria who is also Drayman’s girlfriend, and tries to touch her secretly. She moves away.

Weisler goes to Drayman’s house when he is not around and plants mikes all over the place. He starts monitoring everything sitting in the attic up above Drayman’s apartment. From morning to night, he hears every conversation happening in Drayman’s apartment and in the night, an assistant shares the shift.

There is a party hoisted in Dreyman’s apartment. Noted director Jerska who had been blacklisted by the government due to his support of the rebels, comes to the party. Weisler hears every line spoken in the party and prepares a report.

Weisler comes to know about the minister’s interest towards Christa-Maria and is disappointed since he is an ardent believer of socialism and his country. He is perplexed by seeing the minister use all his powers to woo Christa-Maria.

We see Christa-Maria walking, and the minister’s car comes. He persuades her to get in, and tries to manhandle her inside the car. Christa-Maria gives in, as she is afraid of opposing a minister. Weisler secretly makes Dreyman to see Christa-Maria getting down from the minister’s car. Dreyman argues with Christa-Maria after some days when she lies to him about her relationship with the minister, and she tells him they both need to sleep with the government in order to live safely. If they start protesting, they will be long gone. She comes out to meet the minister, and goes to a bar where Weisler too is drinking. He goes to Christa-Maria and tells her he is her audience, and suggests she is a great actress and she doesn’t have to please anyone by going against her loved ones. She becomes clear, thanks him and leaves.

In the morning, Weisler learns from his assistant that Christa-Maria returned home that night and passionately made love with Dreyman promising him that she will never leave him.

Now, the blacklisted director Jerska commits suicide, and Dreyman openly starts to detest the government. He prepares a secret article with the help of his writer friends about the increasing suicides in East Germany which the government has repeatedly ignored, and sends it to a West German magazine. The writer friends tell Dreyman that his flat might also be bugged, and to test it out, they device a plan. The plan is to smuggle a fellow out of the country and although Weisler hears every word of the plan, doesn’t mention it in his report as he has grown compassionate towards the writer, and since nothing happened to them, the friends get convinced that Dreyman's house is not bugged.

For the same reason, Weisler lies in his daily reports that Dreyman is preparing a play for the 40th anniversary of the country. Hence, when Dreyman’s article creates a havoc all over the country, the minister becomes angry and enquires Grubitz who runs the operation, and when Grubitz in turn enquires Weisler, he tells nothing important is happening in Dreyman’s apartment.

Weisler is a lonely person, and since the society treats him like a machine, feels rejuvenated by listening to Dreyman playing the symphony in his piano, and steals books from the writer and reads them. Gradually he becomes more compassionate.

Meanwhile, as Christa-Maria has turned away from the minister, he becomes furious and orders Grubitz to destroy her future. Grubitz arrests Christa –Maria when she secretly buys banned medication, and persuades her to tell the truth about the article, since he has a suspicion towards Dreyman. She reluctantly gives in, tells him that the article was prepared by Dreyman and is hidden in his house. Grubitz immediately frisks the house with the police but nothing is recovered.

Grubitz then summons Weisler himself to interrogate Christa-Maria. While Weisler interrogates her, he again tells the same words that he is her audience, to remind her of the meeting they had in the bar earlier. She then tells the place where Dreyman has hidden the typewriter he used to type the article. She also signs to become an official informant for the government. Grubitz again searches exact place the type writer is hidden, but by this time, since Weisler has gone and removed the typewriter, Grubitz is unable to find the evidence. Meanwhile, guilty that she has become a traitor, Christa-Maria rushes to the street and stands on the middle, gets hit by a truck and dies, as Weisler rushes to her and cries that he has hidden the typewriter.

Grubitz orders to call of the entire surveillance mission, and says to Weisler that he will be de –promoted to steam-open the letters till he retires, with no kind of promotion.

Four years and seven months later, while Weisler is doing his job steam-opening letters, a fellow worker informs him that the Berlin wall has been destroyed. After haring the news, Weisler leads the workers out of the place.

Two years later, while seeing the same play in which Christa-Maria acted, Dreyman meets the minister Hempf who is now a businessman and enquires him why didn't they bug his apartment earlier and Hempf tells him that every inch of his house was wired. An amazed Dreyman goes to the national archives office where the archives of all the surveillance records were stored, and asks for his own records. Huge volumes of archives are brought in, where Dreyman finds each and every activity in his house was reported. But, when reading the pages where he conceived and typed the rebellious article, it’s been mentioned in the reports that he is preparing for the 40th anniversary play. Dreyman realizes that he is able to live only because of the officer who hid the information in the report. He then learns the code name of the officer as ‘HGW XX/7’ and learns his details.

Two years later, while Weisler, now a postman, is walking on a street, he sees the poster of Dreyman’s new book, and he goes in to a book store and reads it. It has been dedicated to ‘HGW XX/7’. A moved Weisler buys it, and when the employee asks whether the book can be gift wrapped, he replies ‘No.. It’s for me’.

With a close-up of Weisler, the film ends.

‘The lives of Others’ is made in German and is the first ever movie of director Florian Henkel Von Donnersmark (Juz a single name). He has done one and a half year’s research before he penned a single letter in the screenplay, and the screenplay itself was written five times over a period of two years. After all this hard work, he has given us a gem of a picture. The movie clearly tells us about the ruthless East German government which monitored almost all the important people in its country, for over a period of 49 years. The STASI employed over 274,000 people for its surveillance operations. About 174,000 informants have been identified in this period, which accounted for almost 2.5% of the total population.

The director tells that it was the statement by Lenin about hearing Beethoven inspired this film. Lenin has told that if he hears Beethoven, he will drop all his revolutionary ideals and will become a connoisseur. In the same way, the tough officer Weisler once hears the symphony played by Dreyman, and from that moment, becomes compassionate.

‘The lives of Others’ won the best foreign film in the 79th Oscars. It also won many awards, at the many film festivals across the world. This movie stands at #53 in IMDB’s list of top 250 movies. All the listening/recording props used in the film are actual STASI equipment on loan from museums and collectors. The props master had himself spent two years in a STASI prison and insisted upon absolute authenticity down to the machine used at the end of the film to steam-open up to 600 letters per hour (thanks: IMDB).

Director Donnersmarck spent a month translating the screenplay into French and sending it to Gabriel Yared to entice his participation as composer for the film. For the scene in which Dreyman plays the Sonata ‘For A Good Man’ on piano, Donnersmarck asked Yared to write a composition that in two minutes would turn Hitler away from all the atrocities he later committed. This pivotal scene was the germinal idea around which the original screenplay was conceived and constructed (thanks: IMDB).

A terrific debut film indeed, portraying the angst of an author and the compassion of a officer.

See the trailer here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

World Movie Series - 17 - Seom

There is nothing complicated in this world more than the man-woman relationship. Every one of us would have at least experienced this a hundred times. Misunderstanding. There are many reasons behind the problems occurring in relationships. If we go on analyzing the reasons, we will get to a point where the fundamental reason for everything is insecurity. The fear of insecurity makes us to act wild. When we have a man/woman with us, we feel secured and confident, and if we lose them, then timidity grabs us by our throat and the same person who was a good person becomes the opposite (at least in his mind) until he gets back his long lost refuge. At times, the refuge might turn to be awry. As I said, there are too many problems.

What will happen if two lonely people find each other as their refuge, and what if their relationship tends to break in a place which has very few living beings? The Isle provides the answer.

Before going in to the movie, let me tell you that it indeed contains certain material which is inappropriate for some audiences. The kind of audience who are fond of sunshine and rainbows might dislike this film. This movie is one of the most disliked films in movie history. During the screening in film festivals, people have been passing out or vomiting or walking out. I will give my own views about those scenes when I describe about them.

The opening of the film is a brilliant shot, and it fades in on the spectacular blue water, with the secluded floating cottages located on the water. We see Hee-Jin, the lonely boat operator of the resort, fetching things for the customers who stay at the floating cottages. She acts as a courier service between the shore and the customers. She herself is a prostitute too. Her house is on the shore and she lives a lonely life. She cannot talk and is silent throughout the entire movie. A good piece of acting. By looking at a scene where she sits and thinks deeply, we learn that she too has lost her companion in the past.

We see Hyun-Shik coming to live in a cottage. Hee-Jin takes him in the boat to his cottage. One night, as Hee-Jin brings some food to one of the cottages, one person wants her service, and he plays with the money, without giving it to Hee-Jin. He throws it in the water, and Hee-Jin collects it. Later that night, while that person is answering nature’s call, is suddenly pulled in to the water, and is attacked.

Gradually, Hee-Jin starts noticing Hyun-Shik. He too is lonely like her, and she starts developing a kind of a bond on him. We see Hyun-Shik trying to kill himself with a gun, and at the last second, is poked through the cottage floor by a spike and is thus hurt and bleeds. Hence he drops his suicidal attempt that night.

Through a five second raw flashback, we learn that he murdered his girlfriend and her lover while they make love, and escaped to the resort, fleeing from the police. He is fond of creating small structures using the thin iron wires used for fishing and seldom comes out. He tries to manhandle Hee-Jin one day and violently undresses her, but Hee-Jin beats him and moves away in her boat. The next day, a prostitute comes to Hee-Jin and asks her to take her to Hyun-Shik’s cabin. It’s been raining heavily, and she takes her in her boat. At Hyun-Shik’s cabin, he asks the prostitute not to undress, and gives her tea. It’s his loneliness which makes him to be with company, and they talk. Hee-Jin observes everything from her house and the strange expression on her face tells us she is jealous of the girl and she does not like her to visit Hyun-Shik.

Since coz of the rain, the prostitute stays for a long time in Hyun-Shik’s cabin, and as a result, the local pimp angrily beats the girl and takes her away. Even then, during her weekly off, the prostitute again goes to Hyun Shik, as he was the only one to be kind on her. Hee-Jin refuses to take her to him, but gives in after a while.

We see Hee-Jin catching a frog, hitting it hard on a rock, killing it, and by grabbing it tightly, tearing it apart, and feeding the pieces to Hyun-Shik’s pet bird. We also see a man catching a fish in one of the cottages, and skinning the fish alive, tearing its stomach and pulling the flesh out and eat it, saying that ‘Sushi’ (raw fish) is tasty. He then leaves the fish in the water, which swims away.

One day, we see police searching all the cottages for someone, and while they arrest a person, Hyun-Shik becomes restless. While Hee-Jin is coming to his cottage, he collects four small fish-hooks which are curved and are sharp at the end (like a reversed question mark) and puts them in to his throat. He then sternly pulls the chord, as the fish hooks tear his throat. Unable to bear the pain, he starts twitching uncontrollably, as Hee-Jin jumps in to his cabin. Seeing the police approach the cabin, she immerses him in the water below, and after they are gone, pulls him up using the same rod hooked to the fish hooks he just swallowed. She quickly sits on top of him, opens his mouth and pulls away all the hooks with the help of a cutting player. She then makes love to him, granting his long awaiting boon, which can soothe his pain.

From that day, she visits his cabin every day and spends time with him. Hyun-Shik too starts to like Hee-Jin. But, as like every relationship, we see small fights between them, and one day, while fishing, as Hee-Jin catches a fish (the same fish which was skinned by the man previously). Hyun-Shik throws it away in the water, which makes her angry. She grabs his pet bird and throws the cage in water, and we see the bird sink. Hyun-Shik becomes angry and tries to leave the cottage, shouting at her he can leave at any moment, since that is not his home. They both fight severely.

After a few days, the prostitute comes to Hee-Jin again and asks her to take her to Hyun-Shik. She becomes angry, takes her to another far off cabin and ties her down and leaves. That night, while trying to escape, the prostitute falls in to the water and suffocates to death. The next day, Hee-Jin notices this and ties a rock to the corpse, so that it can settle down at the abyss. She also dumps the prostitute’s bike in to the water.

The pimp angrily comes to Hyun-Shik’s cabin in search of the prostitute, and starts beating him. Hyun-Shik retaliates by beating the pimp severely and throwing him in the water. He-Jin arrives there with her boat and she kills the pimp. They both tie the pimp’s body to a worn out car battery and push him in to the water.

As Hee-Jin’s obsession on Hyun-Shik grows, she expects him to be with her always. This irritates him and he tries to leave one day in the boat. As he is half way towards the shore, Hee-Jin, with a calm expression on her face, collects the fishing hooks and slowly puts them inside her vagina. Holding the rope firmly, she suddenly pulls it hard, which makes her to scream wildly. Hyun-Shik rushes back and she stands at the cottage’s entrance, with a blood soaked dress. He slowly pulls all the fish hooks from her vagina with a cutting player, and while placing them down, we see him placing two hooks in the shape of a heart. Symbolism of love.

As Hee-Jin heals, a prostitute accidentally pushes a man’s Rolex watch in to the water, and he seeks the help of the police. While the divers search the watch in the water, they discover the bodies of the pimp and the prostitute. Seeing this, Hee-Jin connects the boat’s motor to the cottage, and slowly the cottage is moved in to a very lonely place in the resort. With a beautiful zoom out and a fade out shot, the film gives an impression that it has ended with this shot.

But, there is still a minute left. The shots placed at this final minute might totally confuse the viewer and it brings in a sort of symbolism in to the movie. It’s like a puzzle which is hard to crack. This scene might serve as an answer to the strange happenings which occur at the beginning of the film at the resort. Even then, I am not going to mention about that final minute of the movie, and my suggestion to the viewers is to stop the film when it fades out after the cottage has been moved to the lonely place at the resort.

‘The Isle’ is also directed by Kim Ki Duk and is his first film to receive international acclaim. It’s his fifth movie. It was released three years before he released his critically acclaimed ‘Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring’.

Kim Ki Duk has also handled the art direction of the film. Right from the beginning, the film gives us a mystic and philosophic effect, as like ‘Spring…’. The camera work is stunning, and it marvelously captures the resort. The music closely follows the film and is nicely composed. There might only be just a page full of dialogues through out the film.

Now, about the ‘disgusting’ (according to the critics) scenes in the film. We see fishes skinned alive and the flesh inside them pulled out, cut and being eaten. We see a frog smashed to a rock and is being torn apart in to two pieces. We see fishes thrown out of the aquarium and die, twitching. We also se a dog mercilessly beaten. Now, the critics were against these scenes, mentioning that these scenes clearly depict the cruelty to animals. What was Kim Ki Duk’s reaction?

Kim talks here: “The way I see it, the food that we eat today is no different. In America you eat beef, pork, and kill all these animals. And the people who eat these animals are not concerned with their slaughter. Animals are part of this cycle of consumption. It looks more cruel onscreen, but I don't see the difference. And yes, there's a cultural difference, and maybe Americans will have a problem with it - but if they can just be more sensitive to what is acceptable in different countries I'd hope they wouldn't have too many issues with what's shown on –screen”.

Nevertheless, ‘Seom’ – The Isle, is a very important film and has gained critical acclaim worldwide, and stands as one of Kim Ki Duk’s masterpieces. It was released in the year 2000 in South Korea and as like all the Kim Ki Duk movies, didn’t pull in the Korean audience, but was able to garner the attention of the world movie fans.
See the trailer here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

World Movie Series - 16 - Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring

Our life is a complicated mixture of various aspects. We are not in a constant mood every day. Hour by hour, minute by minute, the mood changes, and hence the character. When we look back at how we fare honestly, we will realize about the deeds we have committed which affected others intentionally. Are there ways to drive away the guilt in our mind and to calm it down? What will happen if the actions committed in haste settle down in our mind like rust and it becomes difficult to scrap them away from the layers of our mind to make it clean? Is salvation a mirage?

There are too many unanswered questions in life. Even though we know the answers ourselves, we fear pursuing them, and are afraid to get rid of the guilt. What will happen if we get to live life as per what the mind says, and then what if we want to be clean and to spend the rest of our lives in remorse?

Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring is one such epic tale which spans three generations.


We see two big artistical gates open up slowly and reveal the stunning image of a Buddhist temple in the middle of a lake. All around, it’s surrounded by mountains and forests and looking at the temple itself is like looking at heaven. We get to see an old pontiff and his very young apprentice. There is a small Buddha statue in the temple, placed inside a bowl- like erection filled with water. There are a few goldfishes in the water. The Buddha is smiling, and the statue is a spectacular one. There is a door placed on two sides of the hall, and the little boy is sleeping on one side. The monk opens the door and awakens the boy. There is no necessity to open the door, as there is empty space all around it. It’s only needed to walk around the door to go to the other side, but that’s not the custom. The initial ten minutes of the film doesn’t have more than a few lines of dialogue. They go to the shore, collect herbs and return back. There is a dog in the temple, and the boy plays with the dog. We see a small montage of the young boy playing in the temple. The visuals are stunning.

One day, while in the forest, the little boy playfully catches a fish, ties a stone to it with a string and leaves it back. The fish is unable to pull the weight of the stone and shudders in the water. The boy laughs. He then does the same treatment to a frog and a snake. The monk silently watches from the back. While the boy is sleeping in the temple, the monk ties a big rock at his back with a rope. In the morning, the boy comes to the monk dragging the rock and complains that he is unable to walk. The monk asks the boy didn’t he do the same thing to the fish? Didn’t he do the same thing to the frog? Didn’t he do the same thing to the snake? The boy answers yes to all the questions, and the monk asks him to go to the forest and free the fish, frog ad the snake from their burdens. If any of them dies, then the boy will carry the burden in his heart to the rest of his life, the Abbott adds.

The boy goes to the forest, dragging the stone and trips down a few times. The monk secretly follows him. The boy finds the fish dead. He frees the frog, and the snake also is dead. The boy starts to cry deeply, as he is now aware of his blunder. The monk watches.


The doors open again, and we see the temple. The apprentice had grown to his teen age. He collects herbs as usual, and he meets a mother and her young daughter. He brings them both to the temple. We see a Rooster now in the temple. The monk has become even more aged. The mother says her daughter is sick, and the master invites them in. The daughter has to stay for a few days to become alright. The mother leaves the next day. Gradually, the teenage apprentice starts to glance at the daughter with lust. It is very natural, and once, he tries to touch the sleeping girl. She slaps him, and the trainee instantaneously turns to Buddha and starts praying fanatically. The girl gently touches him after seeing his predicament, and the door opens. The monk comes in, asks the boy why is he praying in such an untimely hour, and the boy keeps on praying.

The boy then starts playing with the girl in the temple, and the monk looks at this with a smile. They gradually become close, and once, the boy pushes her in the lake and takes her to the shore, and they make passionate love. That night, the apprentice is unable to sleep, and he keeps looking at the girl sleeping on the other side. The girl opens up her blanket, inviting him and the boy secretly goes to her. He tries to open the door in font of him, but fearing the creaking sound, goes through the empty space near the door. It has been filmed like the boy is breaking a custom. They make love.

This continues for a few days, and while they are asleep in the boat after making love, the monk notices. He drags the boat to the temple and pulls the plug, so that water floods in to the boat. They wake up with a jolt, and the boy pleads to the monk to forgive him. The monk says it’s a very natural thing, and desire leads to attachment and it will further lead to killing and orders the girl to leave as she has become alright. The apprentice cannot endure her absence, and at night, steals the Buddha idol and leaves the temple.


The doors open up again and we see the temple. The surrounding has changed. We see a very old monk returning from a neighboring village with a food parcel. He now carries a cat with him. On the parcel paper, the monk reads the news that a man has killed his wife and has fled. It’s the apprentice. The monk modifies the small shrunken cloths of the apprentice as he expects him at any moment. The apprentice returns to the temple. He has changed a lot, and looks like a guy from a city. He is angry to the core and breaks down to the monk that he cannot tolerate his wife going with another person. The monk tells that sometimes, others too will start liking our beautiful possessions. The apprentice stabs his knife on the floor of the temple many times, unable to control his temper over his wife he murdered. He tries to kill himself by sealing his eyes, nose and mouth by cloth. The monk beats him up brutally. The monk says he cannot kill himself. He ties the apprentice to the ceiling and places a burning candle beneath the rope. The apprentice falls down. The monk then writes down the hymns of the Prajñāpāramitā Hrdaya – a sacred Mahayana Buddhist sutra – using the cat’s tail on the wooden floor of the temple and orders the disciple to carve them out with his knife.

At the beginning, the apprentice does this with anger, and slowly his anger dissipates. He does it obediently. Two police officers come to the temple in search of the murderer, and the monk says it will take a day to finish up the carving. The apprentice carves all through the night, and faints. The police officers and the monk start painting the carved out sutras. The apprentice wakes up after a long time, and sees the entire floor painted with the carved out sutras. He then goes with the police officers in the boat. The boat stops in the water without moving further, and the monk waves his hand. The boat then moves. Later, the monk creates a pyre in the boat, sits inside sealing his nose, eyes and mouth using cloth, and burns himself.


After many years, the doors open again, and we see snow everywhere. The entire lake has frozen. We see a middle aged man (Kim Ki Duk himself). He slowly walks towards the temple, and offers his salute. He then goes to the frozen boat, salutes it and digs out the bones of the old pontiff. He places the bones in a red cloth and places it as the ‘bindi’ – the dot in the forehead - of the Buddha he earlier carved in the snow. We see a snake this time inside the temple. He cleans the temple and starts practicing the vigorous meditative customs, in the freezing winter. One day, a lady comes to the temple with her child, covering her face. She stays there and at the night, leaves the temple secretly, placing her child at the temple. She staggers in to a hole in the ice the monk dug when he arrived, and dies. The monk pulls the body from the ice the next day.

The monk now ties a big stone at his back, and starts to climb the tallest mountain nearby, as repentance to all his deeds he committed in his life. He painfully climbs the mountain finally and places the statue on top. From there, the temple looks like a tiny dot.

Spring, again

Now, we see the cycle complete. There is a little boy at the temple with the monk. The little boy plays with a Tortoise now. We are reminded about the monk, who did the same in his younger days, torturing the fish, frog and the snake. The movie ends with the beautiful shot of the status at the mountain, and the temple looking like a tiny dot.

Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring is a touchy tale about the cycle of life. What we did will come back to us. This concept is told in pictures. Everywhere in the film, I just felt like I’m walking inside the jungle surrounding the temple. The cinematography is excellent. I’ve never seen such a beautiful location anywhere.

Also, during every season, a different animal is used to portray the seasons. A dog, a rooster, a cat and a snake. There are a lot of allegorical meanings attached to them.

At times, when Kim Ki Duk shows us the mystical temple through long shots, it felt like heaven. I felt contented just seeing the shot.

There is also the untold story of the old pontiff we see at the beginning, that he might have also faced such a life, before he came to the temple. The movie makes us to think a lot.

The music too, is wonderful. For the first ten minutes, I didn’t hear a single chord other than the small bit playing when the doors are opened. That too, the music is not boisterous. It uses the exact music we hear at Buddhist temples. Not a chord more; not a chord less.

Watching this film was a wonderful experience which cannot be expressed. Watch it and feel the peace in your heart.

See the trailer here.

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