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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Copa America 2011 Book & Film Festival


The Copa America is just 8 days away which also means my deadline to finish all the selections for the Copa America Book & Film Festival is fast approaching. While I had finished watching most of the South American films by end of January 2011, the books have taken a lot longer to get through than originally planned. Reading 12 books in 6 months is not a difficult target to achieve but that task was made a bit more challenging by my decision to see as many as 200 films in that 6 month period. As things stand, I have just two more books to get through but I will have to stretch the reading past my self-imposed deadline of June 30. Also, an unexpected addition to my original selection occurred after Japan withdrew from Copa America but I still retained the Japanese novel & film while adding a book and film from Costa Rica.

Quick re-cap of the rules

The entries will not be placed into the following three groups as per the soccer tournament:

Group A: Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Bolivia
Group B: Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela
Group C: Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Peru

Instead the top 3 books and films will be chosen from all the selections. However, I will still do a comparison of the soccer vs book/film group standings.

The Japanese entries and the bonus films will not be eligible for the competition.

The Selections

Here in summary of all the entries -- 13 books, 19 films (including the 6 bonus films).

Argentina:

Book: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
Film: Crane World (1999, Pablo Trapero)
Bonus Film: Lion's Den (2008, Pablo Trapero)

Bolivia:

Book: Aurora by Giancarla de Quiroga
Film: Cocalero (2007, Alejandro Landes)

Brazil:

Book: Zero by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão
Film: Black God White Devil (1964, Glauber Rocha)

Chile:

Book: The Secret Holy War of Santiago De Chile by Marco Antonio de la Parra
Film: Tony Manero (2008, Pablo Larraín)


Colombia:

Book: The Armies by Evelio Rosero
Film: Crab Trap (2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia)
Bonus Film: The Wind Journeys (2009, Ciro Guerra)


Costa Rica:

Book: Cocori by Joaquin Guteierrez
Film: Cold Water of the Sea (2010, Paz Fabrega)

Ecuador:

Book: The Ecuador Reader, edited by Carlos De La Torre
Film: Cronicas (2004, Sebastián Cordero)
Bonus Film: Ratas, ratones, rateros (1999, Sebastián Cordero)

Japan:

Book: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Film: Tokyo Sonata (2008, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Mexico:

Book: The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Film: Duck Season (2004, Fernando Eimbcke)

Paraguay:

Book: I, The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos
Film: Noche Adentro (2009, Pablo Lamar, 17 min)
Bonus Film: I Hear Your Scream (2008, Pablo Lamar, 11 min)

Peru:

Book: Conversations in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa
Film: Milk of Sorrow (2009, Claudia Llosa)
Bonus Film: Madeinusa (2006, Claudia Llosa)

Uruguay:

Book: Body Snatcher by Juan Carlos Onetti
Film: A Useful Life (2010, Federico Veiroj)

Venezuela:

Book: Chronicles of a Nomad by A.A. Alvarez
Film: El Don (2006, José Ramón Novoa)
Bonus Film: Araya (1959, Margot Benacerraf)


Currently, only comments on the entries from Colombia and Venezuela are posted. The remaining 11 posts will be put up during the actual Copa America soccer tournament, which goes from July 1 - July 24.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Parisian beauties

Paris (2008, France, Cédric Klapisch)

Paris is often called a seductive romantic city. So it is not surprizing that a film titled Paris should feature plenty of romance and some enticing seductive women. After exploring relationships and friendships in Barcelona in L'auberge espagnole (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005), Cédric Klapisch turned his camera towards Paris to create an engaging film. The main star of Paris is Romain Duris but the women light up the screen with their presence. Here are just some of the beautiful women that grace the camera in Paris:

Chalo Dilli

Chalo Dilli (2011, India, Shashant Shah)


The past few years have produced some engaging Indian films shot exclusively in New Delhi. Films such as Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Band Baaja Baaraat, Love, Sex Aur Dhoka, Do Dooni Chaar and No One Killed Jessica portrayed interesting stories that were superior in quality to the average Bollywood film and were still accessible to a multiplex crowd. These films proved that audience do not have to “leave their brains at the door” to enjoy a film. Although these six films varied in quality and style, the only thing they had in common was their New Delhi setting. Now Shashant Shah’s Chalo Dilli shows that a good film does not have to be set in Delhi but just needs to have Delhi mentioned in the title. As per the title which translates to "Let’s go Delhi", the film is about a journey to the Nation’s capital. The film takes the familiar comedic framework of pairing two opposite personalities on a road journey shown in Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Due Date to elicit laughs. However, Chalo Dilli is also infused with the charm and energy of Jab We Met but reverses the male-female characters from Imtiaz Ali’s film and eliminates any romantic angle between the duo. The real driving force of Chalo Dilli is Vinay Pathak’s brilliant performance. Pathak is a delight in any film he does and brings plenty of energy and charm to his roles. He steals the show when he is given main roles such as in Dasvidaniya (also directed by Shashant Shah) or Bheja Fry and even manages to liven a film despite having a small role. Pathak’s character of Bobby was the best thing about an awful film like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Pathak is at his best in Chalo Dilli with a character that is equally charming and annoying. His positive upbeat character is a perfect ploy to the negative attitude of Mihika, played by Lara Dutta. The differences between the two characters is as diverse as that between Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and Scott (Eddie Marsan) in Happy-Go-Lucky.

Chalo Dilli is a predictable film that navigates within a familiar framework used in many commercial Bollywood films but Shashant Shah shows that it is still possible to make a smart film within that confined framework. In that regard, Chalo Dilli is an essential film in helping to draw indian audience away from the commercial junk of Bollywood. There is nothing difficult about Chalo Dilli and it is a film that can appeal to anyone used to a multiplex feature but it is without the vulgarity or substandard qualities seen in majority of Bollywood comedies, such as those that populate any Anees Bazmee or Sajid Khan feature. For safe measure, Chalo Dilli has a completely needless item number featuring Yana Gupta just to ensure that audience who need a song to digest their film can have no excuse to stay away. Also, film lovers used to seeing only “big stars” in their Indian films cannot complain either as Chalo Dilli does indeed have a “big star” whose character makes an appearance late on to save the day. However, despite being an accessible enjoyable film, it is a safe bet to assume that audience will causally pass over Chalo Dilli or treat it with a shrug of the shoulder and say that the film "theek hai" (ok) and is nothing to get excited about while eagerly rushing to watch substandard Bollywood fare.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film (2010, Serbia, Srdjan Spasojevic)

Once upon a time, a man screwed for a living. Then he retired to live happily with his family. But he still missed his screwing life, so he often watched videos of his screwing exploits. One day, a former screwing partner of his appears and offers a chance where he can screw again but this time in an artful manner and for lots of money. The man thinks it over. He needs the money because his happy life isn't cutting it. So he takes up the screwing job and signs on the dotted line. Of course as it often happens when an offer is too good to be true, it usually isn't. His screwing job ends up screwing with his head and causes his family to get screwed over as well. So the happily ever after ending never comes and the screwing continues long after the fade to black.

That in a nutshell is A Serbian Film. The film has had a lot of hype around it and most of it revolves around a few questionable scenes. However, without those scenes the film is just an upgraded version of a B grade movie about screwing. The director on the other hand claims his film is about the horrible psychological damage caused by the Serbian war where people were screwed physically and mentally. Such an explanation appears to be a ploy to attach a deeper meaning to an otherwise average film. It may have happened that someone told Srdjan Spasojevic that the screwing represented the plight of the Serbian people perfectly and such words probably encouraged the director to sell his film as a political statement. The director’s ploy has certainly worked. The fake political suffering tag coupled with the screwing scenes has ensured the film a cult following and instant talking points. If Srdjan truly wanted his film to represent the screwing of people’s psyche, then including rape sequences is the not the best way to depict that because such scenes draw attention to themselves and prevent any insight into the character’s mental suffering. Thankfully, there is an appropriate example of a Serbian film that properly manages to get across the suffering of its Serbian characters. Mladen Djordjevic’s The Life and Death of a Porno Gang accomplishes everything that Srdjan Spasojevic claims his film does but The Life and Death of a Porno Gang manages to do it without needless rape sequences. There are torture sequences in ...Porno Gang and even snuff film making but the film does not only focus on torture but establishes a larger framework which shows how society traps the main characters and suffocates them into making the choices they eventually make.

The titles of both films are misleading as well. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang contains very little porn and is a case study about a few characters marginalized by society. On the other hand, A Serbian Film has nothing to say about Serbia but looks at various forms of porn, including torture and child porn. Needless to say, the lesser of the two films has gotten all the attention while a worthy film like The Life and Death of a Porno Gang has all but disappeared. Interestingly, both films still have reference points to Emir Kusturica's Underground. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang picks up where Kusturica's film ended and shows a much bleaker future. Also, one of the characters is shown wearing a jacket with the word "underground" clearly visible. A Serbian Film fulfills a statement uttered in Underground -- "A War is not a War until a brother kills a brother".