Monday, March 19, 2007

Cycle of Violence + Multiple Shades of Takeshi & Paris

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, Director Ken Loach): Rating 8.5/10

Ireland, 1920. British troops terrorize the local Irish boys. The Irish can't take the abuse anymore, so they start to fight back. The Irish want freedom and the British out. But the British are in no mood to leave, so they terrorize the locals with even greater force. And the cycle of violence continues. Then out of nowhere, a compromise is reached. The British take one tiny step back, allowing the Irish a little breathing room. But that little breathing room comes with its restrictions. Some Irish accept the tiny freedom, others want to continue fighting. Then the two divided Irish ideologies clash in a horrific way -- the two groups fight among themselves and even take over the role of their past British occupiers by killing their own friends. Repeat the same pattern with Bhagat Singh and India's fight of freedom or even with other battles of Independence (Battle of Algiers). It is the same pattern that is found all over the world. And when the occupiers finally leave a land, they leave their legacy of power behind. Locals step into to fill the void and kill each other to get their slice of freedom.

The second hour of Ken Loach's film is more powerful and absorbing than the first hour. Right off the bat, one has to get used to the bits of gaelic dialogue (without any subtitles) and the Irish way of life. But the story really gets interesting when the locals debate about the ways to get complete freedom from the British and then engage in cleansing their own to keep the facade of peace up, lest the British return back. "Divide and Conquer" -- The British knew their game really well! The engaging cinematography gives us a front row seat to the interesting political debates and even the horrific torture.

Gangster: A Love Story (2006, Director Anurag Basu): Rating 8/10

The only reason I am giving this film a high rating is because of its story, Shiney Ahuja's intense acting and the lovely visuals. Anurag Basu clearly has talent as a director but his screenplay needs more work. It seems he took Mahesh Bhatt's story and shot it as is, without working too much on a screenplay. To his credit, he has stripped the film of any irrelevant characters. The story takes a twist on the regular fairytale romantic triangle -- a gangster (Shiney) falls in a love with a woman (Kangana Ranaut) but endangers her life. A princess charming (played rather dully by Emraan Hashmi) comes to rescue her from the gangster's clutches. But things are not as easy as they seem. Shiney hardly says anything in the movie but his intense expressions steal the film. And when he does say a few words, he is brilliant. Kangana makes a decent debut and plays the drunk lover quite well, but her voice gets irritating as she narrates her life via flashbacks. Did Anurag not notice that it would have been better to use little dialogue in the flashbacks? Anyway, still a worthy watch. The emotional ending is just beautiful. Poetic!

Takeshis' (2005, Director Takeshi Kitano): Rating 6.5/10

One man but two names. When he directs a movie, it is Takeshi Kitano. But when he acts in a film, it is Beat Takeshi. Beat Takeshi has come in some very impressive acting roles (Zatôichi, Battle Royale) and Takeshi Kitano has directed a wide array of film genres -- from art (Dolls) to gangster/action flicks (Brother and Fireworks). So what was left? Well combining the two personas in one film ofcourse! So Takeshi Kitano directs both himself and his separate ego, Beat Takeshi in a film. The movie begins with Kitano the director running into Beat Takeshi, a struggling actor. Kitano wonders what his life would be if he was in Beat's place? His assistant remarks that just like the wanna-be actor, Kitano would struggle for parts and jobs. From them on, the film jumps into Beat's life and dreams. While Beat is stuggling for acting parts, he drifts into pseudo dreams about becoming the famous actor Beat Takeshi played by Takeshi Kitano. Characters from Kitano's previous films make tiny cameos along with framed shots from his older movies, like the beach scene from A Scene at the Sea. Takeshis' is an easy drifting film for about an hour but after that, it is reduced into a dull endless dream of bullets and gangsters.

Paris, je t'aime (2006, Multiple directors)

20 directors, 18 shorts about different Parisian neighbourhoods. What sounded like a good idea on paper ends up being a lackluster cinematic viewing. That being said, there are some interesting moments from all the directors but the end result does not translate completely. At least all the directors do a good job of covering various issues and aspects of Paris -- parking troubles, people watching, chance meetings, love at first sight, loneliness in the city of love, religion, immigrant issues, single working mothers, racism, violence, gay Paris, art & artists, mimes, subways, tourists, cafes, wine, divorce, red light district, music & sex. Some directors tackle topics familiar to them:
For example, after working as a cinematographer on countless Asian films, Christopher Doyle looks at the Asian side of Paris; Gurindher Chadha tackles a refreshing cross-cultural love story; the Coen brothers have a dull dark comedy with Steve Buscemi playing a cliched tourist whose fears come true in a subway; Gus Van Sant expands on art & gay themes in a very contrived short; Olivier Assayas picks up where he left of in Clean and directs a drug addicted Maggie Gyllenhaal; Wes Craven tackles a ghost story with a twist; Tom Tykwer shoots his love story as fast paced as his Run Lola Run. Then there are some surprizes as well:
-- Oliver Schmitz's well edited 5 minute short makes efficient use of flash-backs to recreate a stabbing and tackle immigrant struggles in Paris.
-- Alfonso Cuarón plays with the audience in a tiny and sweet segment starring Nick Nolte. When we first see Nick Nolte with a young woman, we think he is her lover. But we are surprized to find her as the young woman's father. However, in the next 30 seconds, we are given another surprize as to the reason for his first ever Parisian visit.
-- Vincenzo Natali directs a visually stunning and playful vampire love story yet his effort is at odds with the rest of the shorts. Natali shows a back-packing Elijah Wood lost in the haunted streets of Paris (cute touch having the Canadian flag on Wood's backpack).
-- Alexander Payne directs the final and the best short -- an American woman tourist comes to Paris for her vacation. Yet she is not impressed by the hype of Paris and finds herself lonely and unable to understand the local culture. But slowly, she finds beauty in just the most average looking park and eventually falls in love with the city.

Besides Alexander Payne, I enjoyed the words of Oliver Schmitz, Tom Tykwer, Gurindher Chadha, Alfonso Cuarón and even Vincenzo Natali. I also thought Gérard Depardieu & Frédéric Auburtin's directed effort of an American divorce in the Latin Quarter was interesting. I rather forget the works of Walter Salles, Doyle, Joel & Ethan Coen.


Heidi B said...

Where do you find Paris, j'taime? Netflix doesn't carry it.

Heidi B said...

'Paris je t'aime' will be in theaters in May. Yea!