Thursday, July 28, 2022

Best Films from Austria, Belgium, Greece, Holland, Ireland, and Switzerland

Doing a deep dive into a specific region or nation’s cinema often reveals blindspots and gaps in one’s knowledge. This proved to be case when compiling a list of top films from Austria, Belgium, Greece, Holland, Ireland, and Switzerland for Wonders in the Dark’s “Rest of Europe” spotlight. The gaps again highlight the lack of viable legal options to see many classic films from these six nations. There are some exceptions though when it comes to older films from these regions such as Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film Jeanne Dielman and Paul Verhoeven’s 1973 Turkish Delight, both of which are easily available. The oldest film in this list is Michael Cacoyannis’s 1956 Greek film A Girl in Black and that isn’t a surprise because until the late 1990s, his films such as Stella (1955), Zorba the Greek (1964), Attila 74 (1975) were the most common Greek films available to rent on VHS tapes at my local video stores (yes those physical spaces). Next most common Greek films available were those of Theo Angelopoulos. Things changed after 2010 when newer Greek films became available due to works of New Greek cinema playing at most film festivals and finding distribution after their festival runs.

Top 15 films from “Rest of Europe” Poll: Austria, Belgium, Greece, Holland, Ireland, and Switzerland

1. Homo Sapiens (2016, Austria, Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
2. L’Enfant (2005, Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
3. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Belgium, Chantal Akerman)
4. The Vanishing (1988, Holland, George Sluizer)
5. Rosetta (1999, Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
6. Father and Daughter (2000, Holland, Michael Dudok de Wit)
7. Turkish Delight (1973, Holland, Paul Verhoeven)
8. A Girl in Black (1956, Greece, Michael Cacoyannis)
9. The Weeping Meadow (2004, Greece, Theo Angelopoulos)
10. Lourdes (2009, Austria, Jessica Hausner)
11. The Boat is Full (1981, Switzerland, Markus Imhoof)
12. In the Name of the Father (1993, Ireland, Jim Sheridan)
13. Revanche (2008, Austria, Götz Spielmann)
14. A Town Called Panic (2009, Belgium, Stéphane Aubier/Vincent Patar)
15. Dogtooth (2009, Greece, Yorgos Lanthimos)

Honourable mention:

Man Bites Dog (1992, Belgium, Rémy Belvaux/André Bonzel/Benoît Poelvoorde)

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Best Films from Africa and Middle East

Wonders in the Dark recently concluded a Best Films from Africa and Middle East poll. The inclusion of Iran, Israel and Turkey in this poll meant that the list is vastly different than the combined results of my previous Best films from Africa and Arab World list. Here is my submitted entry. 

Top 20 films from Africa and Middle East.

1. Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran, Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Touki Bouki (1973, Senegal, Djibril Diop Mambéty)
3. Crimson Gold (2003, Iran, Jafar Panahi)
4. The Time That Remains (2009, Palestine, Elia Sulieman)
5. Soleil Ô (1967, Mauritania, Med Hondo)
6. Timbuktu (2014, Mauritania, Abderrahmane Sissako)
7. Black Girl (1966, Senegal, Ousmane Sembene)
8. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
9. The House is Black (1963, Iran, Forugh Farrokhzad)
10. Chronicles of the Years of Fire (1975, Algeria, Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina)
11. Close-Up (1990, Iran, Abbas Kiarostami)
12. A Man of Integrity (2017, Iran, Mohammad Rasoulof)
13. Return to Homs (2013, Syria, Talal Derki)
14. A Separation (2011, Iran, Asghar Farhadi)
15. Al-mummia (The Mummy, 1969, Egypt, Chadi Abdel Salam)
16. Cairo Station (1958, Egypt, Youssef Chahine)
17. Salt of This Sea (2007, Palestine, Annemarie Jacir)
18. Tilaï (The Law, 1990, Burkina Faso, Idrissa Ouedraogo)
19. The Little Wars (1982, Lebanon, Maroun Bagdadi)
20. Waltz with Bashir (2008, Israel, Ari Folman)

Note: I have listed the primary country only for the co-productions above.

Titles by country:

Iran: 6
Senegal: 2
Palestine: 2
Mauritania: 2
Egypt: 2
Turkey: 1
Algeria: 1
Syria: 1
Burkina Faso: 1
Lebanon: 1
Israel: 1

It isn't a surprise that Iran dominates this list with 6 titles given the strength of its cinema.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Best Films of 2021

We are almost halfway through 2022 and I still haven't caught up with all the worthy 2021 films. Still, I have seen a few that required a change to the Top films of 2021. So here goes.

Top 10 Films of 2021

1. The Great Indian Kitchen (2021, India, Jeo Baby)

As the title indicates, there is food in the movie which will cause one to get hungry. The food preparation and techniques are shown in incredible detail but it becomes apparent that the film is more than about food. And the kitchen is more than just a space to make food. The difference in roles of the husband and wife are emphasized as are the expectations of a woman in some segments of society. Even though this film is rooted in South India, aspects about marriage and treatment of women are applicable to many other patriarchal societies around the world. Credit to the director Jeo Baby of how this depiction is shown, by repetition of the same tasks, which definitely produced a visceral reaction in me.

2. Drive My Car (2021, Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

The second of Hamaguchi’s films to be released in 2021 is an exquisite tender film that is funny, charming, emotional and intelligent. It is also that rare film which lives up to the hype and unanimous praise from all corners of the world.

3. Memoria (2021, Colombia/Thailand co-production, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

The sound design opens a new dimension to Apichatpong’s previously explored themes of past/present, living/dead. In fact, the sound allows time/space to be collapsed and presents a new way to experience our world, a new way to make sense of our memories and dreams.

4. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021, Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi) 
The first of the two Hamaguchi films released in 2021 is pure cinematic delight. The playful structure, including abrupt zooms, reminds of Hong Sang-soo’s cinema but the honesty and mature stories are a continuation of what he explored in his earlier Happy Hour (2015). Another lovely surprise is the inclusion of an element that reflects our current pandemic world.
5. Întregalde (2021, Romania, Radu Muntean)
There are no vampires in this contemplative film set in Transylvania yet there are elements of morality and ethics that are relevant to our world today. Those elements centre around doing good for others at the expense of one’s needs.

6. The World After Us (2021, France, Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas)

A charming Parisian film that balances the sweetness of romance with the bitterness of a writer’s struggles.
7. A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021, India, Payal Kapadia)
Payal Kapadia’s beautiful poetic film shows that despite decades of progress, many things haven’t changed in India (or the world in general). In fact, some things are regressing including basic human rights.
8. Fire in the Mountains (2021, India, Ajitpal Singh)
A remarkable film which derives its power with a smart mix of dry humour and plenty of heart. In the hands of another filmmaker, this could have been a completely dramatic film but Ajitpal incorporates many light hearted touches and that elevates the film.
9. Faya Dayi (2021, Ethiopia/USA/Qatar, Jessica Beshir)
An immersive, hypnotic and poetic journey to Harar! With a photographer's soul, Beshir lovingly captures the myths and rituals around Khat along with its growth, sale and consumption.
10. Aleph (2021, USA/Croatia/Qatar, Iva Radivojevic)
Smartly uses a Jorge Luis Borges short story as a spring board to explore diverse stories in Buenos Aires, Greeland, Kathmandu, New York City and the Sahara. Easily one of the most creative films of the year!

Honourable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Ahed’s Knee (2021, France/Israel/Germany, Nadav Lapid)

Ancient Soul (2021, Spain, Álvaro Gurrea)

Azor (2021, Switzerland/France/Argentina, Andreas Fontana)

The Card Counter (2021, USA/UK/China/Sweden, Paul Schrader)

The City of Wild Beasts (2021, Colombia/Ecuador, Henry Eduardo Rincón Orozco)

Hit the Road (2021, Iran, Panah Panahi)

Pebbles (2021, India, P.S. Vinothraj) 

Straight to VHS (2021, Uruguay, Emilio Silva Torres)

Taming the Garden (2021, Switzerland/Germany/Georgia/Holland, Salomé Jashi)

What Do We See When We Look At the Sky? (2021, Georia/Germany, Aleksandre Koberidze)

Saturday, June 04, 2022

John Abraham's Amma Ariyan

Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother, 1986, India, John Abraham)

My selection for the 6th AFOFF is inspired by Allan’s incredible ‘The Fish Obscuro’ section. I always used to look forward to see what film Allan would post about in this section. Often, the titles were discoveries for me as I hadn’t seen the film or had only heard about them. Allan also included how he saw the film (DVD2, DVD1, not on DVD) and that highlighted the lack of proper distribution for many films he was seeing. Over the last few years, we have had many more streaming options to see films yet distribution of many foreign films still remains a problem. Case in point, John Abraham’s 1986 film Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother).

Abraham’s name is vital when discussing India’s Parallel Cinema even though he only directed four features and tragically died at a young age of 49 in 1987. However, I hadn’t seen any of his four features and never came across a DVD/Blu-Ray of his films. That changed over the last 2 years when I finally saw his last film via the link posted below. Incidentally, Amma Ariyan also received a proper screening in 2021 via Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in a special section on Parallel cinema curated by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Cecilia Cenciarelli and Omar Ahmed.

On paper, the story of Amma Ariyan is simple but the brilliant execution is what makes this film stand apart. In the film, Purushan (Joy Mathew) is a young man on his way to Delhi to pursue a better future when he comes across a dead body that the police say is unidentified. Purushan can’t get over the sight of the dead body and feels the face is familiar. So he postpones his journey to Delhi and goes about trying to identify who the person is. His quest leads him to meet people from all walks of life, including musicians, theatre artists, who end up helping identify the deceased as Hari, a tabla player. Purushan wants to travel to Kochi (formerly Cochin) to inform Hari’s mother of his death.  He is accompanied by all the different people who helped confirm Hari’s identity. Thus begins a road journey unlike any other where people who have nothing in common work together towards a common end goal.

The film’s structure consists of multiple flashbacks where each person sheds a little more light on Hari’s past and that helps piece together events that preluded Hari’s death. The story is set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement in Kerala when police tortured and beat up youth. The details of the political ideologies and struggles aren’t spelled out but the omission of details works in the film’s favour as that lends the material a universal flavour. Multiple countries, including those in our contemporary times, have cases of police abusing their power and beating up innocent people based on differing political ideologies. In that sense, Amma Ariyan is powerfully relevant to our current world.

The community nature of the film also has relevance in our current world. In the film, all the people who help identify Hari form a community and drop everything to go inform Hari’s mother. They want to do their part in helping out in whatever manner they can and share the grief of Hari’s death. The film’s ending features an emotional walk of the group including the mother. Over the last few years, we have seen many movements where people from different backgrounds have come together to share in a common sense of loss. Even in social media retweets or reposts of a tragedy are one form of people sharing in someone’s loss.

Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother) floored me, emotionally and technically. Technically, the film stands apart from other Indian films I have seen. Renowned film scholar Dr. Omar Ahmed notes the non-Indian influences on the film:

With the extreme wide-angle shots, a liberated camera continually on the move and a quasi-documentary aesthetic, John’s style recalls the Latin American Third Cinema of the 1960s (especially Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba) manifesting a creative hybridity in which indigenous film practices and modernist cultural sensibilities intersect with broader international influences. -- BFMAF

I can’t imagine how such a precious film did not get proper distribution earlier. For now, I hope more people can view this film and appreciate what it has to offer.

Note: Cross-published on Wonders in the Dark.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

The Films of Maya Da-Rin

Margem (Margin, 2007, Brazil/Colombia/Peru, Documentary)
Terras (Lands, 2009, Brazil, Documentary)
A Febre (The Fever, 2019, Brazil/France/Germany)

Fluid Borders

Margem/Margin (Maya Da-Rin)

The examination of borders is a theme in all three of Maya Da-Rin’s films yet the borders aren’t defined by fixed walls or markers. Instead, they are fluid borders where it is hard to tell where one border ends and another begins. In both Lands and Margin, the boats traveling on the Amazon river cross from Brazil to Peru or to Colombia without any actual border crossing or any markers. The locals points to the direction on land where a new country begins but in the river, it is hard to tell where one nation's border ends and another starts. 

In The Fever, it is the border between city/jungle and dreams/reality that is examined. At certain points in the film, there is a chain link fence that stands between the urban centre and the jungle but in many other parts of the city, this border is nonexistent. And as the film goes along, it is hard to determine if there is any separation between dreams and reality as the two realms feed into each other.

Transporting of goods

In the two documentaries, one can see the essential everyday items (food, goods) being transported in the boats. These items are on full display in the boats so locals can see them from afar and even hold the items. In addition, the locals can engage in trading if something catches their eye.

However, in The Fever, the goods are secured inside gigantic shipping containers. They come from faraway lands and their identity is well hidden. The good may be parts for industries as per Justino (Regis Myrupu). We never get to see what lies in these containers but instead observe the complex machinery at ports which load/unload these endless ocean of containers.


The impact of globalization on local villages and people’s lives is clearly on display in all three films. In Lands and Margin, locals talk about leaving their nation to find better jobs on the other side of the border. This same need to earn a better living plays a big part in Justino’s decision to leave the forest and move to Manaus in The Fever. Manaus is surrounded by the Amazon rainforest and we can see how the city is encroaching on a daily basis further into the rainforest. However, in its own way, nature fights back. There are reports of attacks on the locals from a mysterious creature which has likely come from the jungle. The bigger fightback from nature is the fever that Justino gets. The fever is a reference to humans destruction of nature thereby eroding whatever borders protected humans from nature’s diseases. Justino also remarks on the eating habits in the city where as per him, eating supermarket food weakens one’s immune system. This comment illustrates how food is distributed and how in the cities, people get their food from packaged/processed goods as opposed to local means. The Fever is packed with many brilliant observations including some vital scenes which show the racism that indigenous people have to suffer in the city.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The City of Wild Beasts

La Ciudad de las Fieras / The City of Wild Beasts (2021, Colombia, Henry Rincon)

Tato (Bryan Cordoba) is a young rapper in Medellin who is looking to make ends meet and find money wherever he can. 

His days are spent in rap battles, hanging out with his girlfriend La Crespa (Valeria Pérez) and his friend Pitu (Joel Mosquera).

After his mother’s death, Tato attempts to dig out of poverty and debts but his life heads into dangerous territory riddled with guns and crime. When death comes looking for Tato, he escapes to the countryside to find his grandfather.

Tato has never met his grandfather Octávio (Óscar Atehortúa) before but his grandfather is the only relative he has left. Octávio isn’t initially impressed with Tato and his attitude and dress style. Meanwhile, Tato isn’t too keen to follow Octávio’s rules and hardworking lifestyle. Yet, as the two get to spend more time together, their perspectives start to change. 

The story at the core of The City of Wild Beasts sounds familiar and even some of the visuals of Medellin recall other Colombian films. However, the film is vibrant and full of life. Huge credit to director/writer Henry Rincon and the entire crew for making a tender film which gives me hope that cinema will always exist and continue to spin its magic as long as filmmakers are willing to tell stories in an honest manner.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Top Films from Spain and Portugal

In compiling a list of the best films from Spain, Portugal, it became immediately clear that many essential films from the Iberian peninsula have had a decent amount of distribution. This is in stark contrast to films from Africa, Arab world and Hungary. Of course, Spanish and Portuguese films weren’t always as easily available. Until a decade ago, I hadn’t seen any films from Pere Portabella and only saw them after showcased a selection of his works. Meanwhile, the quest to legally see any films from Pedro Costa was almost a 4 year personal quest and that only ended in 2010. Plus, I had not seen any of Paulo Rocha’s films until 2020.

Top 15 films from Spain and Portugal:

1. Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist, 1955, Spain, Juan Antonio Bardem)
2. El Verdugo (The Executioner, 1963, Spain, Luis García Berlanga)
3. La Caza (The Hunt, 1966, Spain, Carlos Saura)
4. Mudar de Vida (Change of Life, 1966, Portugal, Paulo Rocha)
5. Volver (2006, Spain, Pedro Almodóvar)
6. O Sangue (Blood, 1989, Portugal, Pedro Costa)
7. El Espíritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973, Spain, Victor Erice)
8. Viridiana (1961, Spain, Luis Buñuel)
9. La Mala Educación (Bad Education, 2004, Spain, Pedro Almodóvar)
10. O Estranho Caso de Angélica (The Strange Case of Angelica, 2010, Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira)
11. Vitalina Varela (2019, Portugal, Pedro Costa)
12. Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About my Mother, 1999, Spain, Pedro Almodóvar)
13. Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (Our Beloved Month of August, 2008, Portugal, Miguel Gomes)
14. Cuadecuc, vampir (1971, Spain, Pere Portebella)
15. Mistérios de Lisboa (Mysteries of Lisbon, 2010-11, Portugal, Raúl Ruiz)

Honourable mentions (as per year of release)

Lucía y el Sexo (Sex and Lucía, 2001, Spain, Julio Medem)
Juventude em Marcha (Colossal Youth, 2006, Portugal, Pedro Costa)
Dans la ville de Sylvia (In the City of Sylvia, 2007, Spain, José Luis Guerín)
A Fábrica de Nada (The Nothing Factory, 2017, Portugal, Pedro Pinho)
Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory, 2019, Spain, Pedro Almodóvar)

Note: Top 15 list submitted for Wonders in the Dark poll.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Top Hungarian Films of All Time

Hungary has a rich cinematic history and has produced many stellar films over the past seven decades. However, many classic films from Hungary aren’t as widely distributed or available online as those from other Eastern European countries such as Czech Republic or Poland. For example, Criterion has done a great job with releasing Czech and Polish films but their Hungarian film release stands at just 1. And this solitary title only came recently in March 2022 with Márta Mészáros’s brilliant Adoption. Thankfully, Kino Lorber has more Hungarian titles on offer and their upcoming release of 6 Miklós Jancsó films is certainly welcome. In addition, a lot of these Kino Lorber Hungarian titles are available online via In my case, I have two labels in UK to thank for seeing some classic Hungarian films: Artificial Eye’s release of Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó and Second Run. Still, for the most part, it is tough to stream Hungarian films online. There was a brief period of few months in 2020 when Hungary's National Film Institute showcased 40 classic films for free online. I missed seeing these films in 2020 although some of them are still available online on You Tube or Vimeo but without English subtitles. However, the Eastern European Movies website has a selection of these films available to stream with English subtitles for a fee.

The availability of these films via the Eastern European Movies website still doesn't end up covering all the films tabulated by Hungarian critics as the best films ever. There have been two lists of 12 films each put out called the ‘Budapest Twelve’ outlining essential Hungarian films.

In the first case, a list was put out in 1968 for top 12 Hungarian films from 1948 - 1968.

Frigyes Bán: Treasured Earth
Miklós Jancsó: The Round-Up
Zoltán Fábri: Merry-Go-Round
András Kovács: Cold Days
Félix Máriássy: Budapest Spring
Zoltán Fábri: Professor Hannibal
Imre Fehér: In Soldier's Uniform
Károly Makk: The House Under the Rocks
Ferenc Kósa: Ten Thousand Days
István Gaál: Sodrásban
Márton Keleti: The Corporal and the Others
István Szabó: Father

There was a New Budapest Twelve list put in 2000.

Miklós Jancsó: The Round-Up
Károly Makk: Love
Zoltán Huszárik: Szindbád
István Szőts: People of the Mountains
Géza Radványi: Somewhere in Europe
Péter Gothár: Time Stands Still
István Székely: Hyppolit, the Butler
Zoltán Fábri: Merry-Go-Round
András Jeles: Little Valentino
Ildikó Enyedi: My 20th Century
István Szabó: Father
Zoltán Fábri: Professor Hannibal

I have only seen half of the above 2000 list so I still have some work to do. Although, one glaring omission from the above list gives me pause. There isn’t a single title by Béla Tarr. By 2000, he had directed 8 films including Sátántangó. Werckmeister Harmonies was released in 2000 so perhaps if that was not seen, then surely 7 of his titles of would have been considered. This omission doesn’t seem like a mistake.

In András Bálint Kovács' book ‘The Cinema of Béla Tarr’, Kovács references the lack of Tarr’s films in the 2000 list and elaborates:

“But the discrepancy between the appreciation of Tarr’s films on the international and on the national level is striking. And I am not talking about the discrepancy between an elite’s taste and the popular taste. This would be obvious and needs no explanation. What I am talking about about here is a discrepancy within a Hungarian art-film audience, which right from the appearance of the Tarr style in 1988 became divided about its value.” page 172, ‘The Cinema of Béla Tarr’, András Bálint Kovács

This gap between directors who are popular locally vs internationally isn’t isolated to Hungarian cinema but takes place in many other nations as well, where some directors find much more appreciation internationally as opposed to locally. Some examples such as Carlos Reygadas (Mexico), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) and Lav Diaz (Philippines) come to mind while a handful of Indian directors do well at international film festivals yet hardly ever get their films shown locally.

While I still have some catching up to do for Hungarian films, here is my current list.

Top 10 Hungarian Films of All Time

1. Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr)

Béla Tarr’s almost 7.5 hour Sátántangó is a cinematic wonder. The film is hypnotic and an immersive experience which showcases the best elements of Tarr’s cinema: long takes, sweeping camera movements, harsh realism, artistic compositions and unforgettable sounds (howling winds, relentless rain).

2. Adoption (1975,  Márta Mészáros)

It is easy to see why this is the first film by a woman to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The film’s creative camerawork brings the material alive and lends a high degree of intimacy with the characters.

3. The Round-Up (1966, Miklós Jancsó)

The setting is 1880s Hungary but the abstract depiction of events has parallels in our contemporary world. This was also true back in 1966 when the film came out as it echoed 1960s Hungary and also implied events in Hungary during WWII. This is because the film shows how power is held and abused while highlighting those who will do or say anything to survive.

On another note, the film’s set coupled with the discussions remind me of the morality battles shown in Glauber Rocha’s parched Brazilian landscape.

4. The Fifth Seal (1976, Zoltán Fábri)

A dizzying film packed with philosophical ideas some of which will always be relevant due to how people align with differing ideologies.

5. The Witness (
A tanú, 1969, Péter Bacsó)

Banned for over a decade in Hungary, Bacsó's wicked satire about communism is also a rare humourous film on this list. The Witness shows how the changing political situation also changes what is acceptable behaviour and what is deemed appropriate. Unfortunately in the film, József Pelikán (Ferenc Kállai) finds himself on the wrong side at all times. The film also features the famous Hungarian director Zoltán Fábri playing a politician.

6. Current (
Sodrásban, 1964, István Gaál)

István Gaál’s Current has a different look and feel from the other Hungarian films on this list. The depiction of friends spending a lazy afternoon swimming initially evokes French cinema. However, when one of the friends disappears, the introspection that the others go through feels like something out of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films.

7. On Body and Soul (2017, Ildikó Enyedi)

Ildikó Enyedi won the Golden Bear at Berlin for this smart film which depicts our isolated contemporary society where real connections are hard to come by.

Enyedi’s film My 20th Century was named on the 2000 'Budapest Twelve' list but I prefer On Body and Soul instead.

8. Kontroll (2003, Nimród Antal)

A wild film that follows the lives of the Budapest underground subway metro staff on their daily routines. The humorous first half looks at the insanity, the male power games, the inner turmoils, and hilarious passengers but the second half shifts gears and explores the shades of darkness lurking beneath the surface.

9. Angi Vera (1979, Pál Gábor)

Using the main character Vera (Vera Pap) as a lens, the film shows how one can assimilate in a party structure and convince leaders of their dedication to the cause. In addition, one can use the examples in the film to extrapolate how easy it would have been for neighbours to turn on each other not only in Hungary but across multiple regions (Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East to name a few) over the last few decades.

10. The Turin Horse (2011, Béla Tarr/Ágnes Hranitzky)

Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky craft their unique end of the world scenario with a few bare essentials: an old man, obedient daughter, rebel horse, untrustworthy visitors, an angry wind, potato, bucket, well, table, chair and a window. The film features an array of reverse and sideway shots that manage to open up space in a confined house setting.

Honourable mentions (alphabetical order as per English titles):

The Falcons (1970, István Gaál)
Mephisto (1981, István Szabó)
Son of Saul (2015, László Nemes)
Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia, 1981, Marcell Jankovics)
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Béla Tarr/Ágnes Hranitzky)

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Top Arab Cinema Films of all time

In compiling a list of the best Arab films of all time, the same problems in making the African films list surfaced: problem of accessibility to many classic Arab films, lack of proper distribution of titles and inadequate quality print available with English subtitles. What makes this problem frustrating is that several Arab countries have had decades of thriving film industries and have produced worthy films. Just as an example, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon had thriving film industries from the 1950-70s but Syria and Lebanon’s film output was clearly impacted from 1970s onwards due to war (both civil and regional). Many older films were never digitized and if they were, then they were not subtitled as they catered to local audience. Although, a recent surprise discovery was seeing that Netflix has a plethora of Arab films ranging from Youssef Chahine’s notable films to those of Elia Sulieman, Annemarie Jacir, Najma Najjar, Ziad Doueiri, Maroun Bagdadi and several other works from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine. Netflix licensed 44 films from Front Row Films Entertainment so that is a good and hopeful sign.

Arab Cinema

There are 22 countries that make up the Arab world, spread from Northern Africa to Middle East and including a few Western and Eastern African countries. However, majority of the candidates for this list came from just 12 nations (order of most films seen): Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq,  Kuwait, UAE and Yemen.

Top 25 Arab Cinema Films of All Time

1. The Time That Remains (2009, Palestine co-production, Elia Sulieman)

Elia Sulieman’s films often draw references to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati due to Sulieman playing a character with deadpan expressions in absurd scenarios. However, there is nothing funny or absurd for most of Sulieman’s brilliant film The Time That Remains. That is because the film deals with the tragic expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 (‘nakba’), an event that created fissures and divisions in the Middle East, none of which have ever been healed and have gotten worse in the seven decades since. For the longest time, most of the world believed that Palestinians left peacefully of their own accord in 1948 but that has been proven to be a lie. Sulieman’s film shows that lie but doesn’t dive into details. Instead, a few scenes show the forceful surrender and forced departure of Palestinians. Events cover a few decades and centre around Fuad Sulieman (played brilliantly by Saleh Bakri) and his family/friends/accomplises. The director enters the frame in the film’s final third as the grown up version of Fuad’s son. Some of the director’s trademark humour attempts to enter the frame in the final 20 minutes but that can’t hide the tragedy of what has unfolded since 1948.

2. Chronicles of the Years of Fire  (1975, Algeria, Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina)

Also known as Chronicle of the Years of Embers

An epic film that is ambitious in scope and charts a timeline from WWII to Algerian freedom. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 1975 and it is easy to see why.

The film starts off by depicting hardships of village life made worse due to a combination of the harsh weather and lack of water (rain coupled with a dam reducing access). This results in locals migrating from the village to the city for a better life by leaving their land, family and roots behind. Once in the city, the villagers are exposed to political ideas as topics of revolution, independence and World War occupy their thoughts. The film depicts that as WWII spreads, Algerians are forced to join France’s fight. The locals are tired of the French, which leads to some cheering for Germany, but they find themselves dragged into alliances and a war they want no part of. The film’s final segments show the emergence of Algeria’s quest for independence post-WWII and how revolutionaries are forced to hide in the mountains to carry out their attacks against the French.

3. Al-mummia (The Mummy, 1969, Egypt, Chadi Abdel Salam)

Also known as The Night of Counting the Years

A film that is often cited as a vital Egyptian and Arab film. Based on real life events of tomb looting, the film raises relevant questions about who should benefit from ancient Egyptian treasures: the locals or a central government.

4. Return to Homs (2013, Syria co-production, Talal Derki)

Once the Syrian Revolution started in 2011, Syrian and Western media were not allowed in the country. Derki was a rare person who was able to capture the events which makes the footage in the film essential in understanding what went on while the rest of the world continued to sleep. Derki and his crew continued filming even when bullets were fired in their direction. Such vérité footage results in many gut wrenching moments when people are on the verge of dying on-screen. By keeping the focus on a few key people, Return to Homs shows the human impact a revolution has on people. But one can also extrapolate these personal experiences to a larger scale and understand what motivates people to act the way they do. In essence, the film focuses on a few streets in a city but this microscopic focus helps shed a light on similar struggles going on in other streets not only across Syria but the rest of the Middle East.

5. Cairo Station (1958, Egypt, Youssef Chahine)

A classic work by Egyptian master Youssef Chahine that embodies what is best about Egyptian cinema of that era: charismatic characters, over the top scenarios, a hint of romance, seduction and a mystery.

6. Salt of This Sea (2007, Palestine co-production, Annemarie Jacir)

Many Palestinians left or were forced to leave their homes in 1948 with the hopes of returning one day but their ownership documents are meaningless because legally now their homes belong to someone else. So what happens when all the surviving members of 1948 are gone? Annemarie Jacir attempts to examine such questions by showing an example of a third generation exile who keeps the memories of pre-1948 alive. In the film, Soraya (Suheir Hammad) leaves her home in Brooklyn to visit her grandfather’s land and retrieve his money. However, the bank can no longer hand over the money because in their eyes that old Palestinian branch no longer exists. So Soraya decides to rob the bank along with two accomplices. What follows is a road movie but in this case, the road passes through non-existent towns and streets because the old Palestinian towns are either renamed or in ruins. What remains of the original towns? Only their memories. The film contains some scenarios that are hard to believe but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Jacir has scripted these scenes to provide a space for a dialogue that is hardly present in the Western world. A dialogue about happened in 1948, what will happen when the original generation of 1948 has perished and what happens when even the memories of that generation are gone.

7. Pomegranates and Myrrh (2008, Palestine co-production, Najma Najjar)

Like Salt of this Sea, the film uses an individual family’s example to raise issues that are hardly talked about. In the film, soldiers arrive at a Palestinian Arab family’s home and annex the land as part of a security pretext. The soldiers provide no proof but show their guns. The elder son Zaid (Ashraf Farah) retaliates and is arrested. The family, including Zaid’s bride Kamar (Yasmine Elmasri), has to make trips to the court to get him released while providing documentation of their land. In the meantime, settlers arrive with their own guns and attempt to occupy that land.

This sounds like wildly scripted fiction but it is not. 2021-2022 events in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem captured by cell phones show that this has been going on for a long time but never talked about and no action is taken.

The film keeps the drama at the human level with Kamar yearning to find her own identity and stay sane while Zaid is behind bars. However, even though the film maintains focus on Kamar and Zaid and their collapsing relationship, it is hard not to draw comparisons with this individual family’s case with that of the larger Palestinian Arab community that went through similar or worse ordeal.

8. Beauty and the Dogs (2017, Tunisia, Kaouther Ben Hania)

Based on a true story, this powerful film shows in harsh detail the lack of justice that exists in a corrupt society where men allowed to abuse their power and get away with anything. In the film, Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) is a young girl who is raped by police causing her to undergo a nightmarish Kafkaesque sequence of events. Miriam tries to report the rape but she is unsure who to trust and is hounded by the police members who committed the crime. She can’t even turn to her family for help as they would judge her as harshly as the police hounding her. At times, the film is tough to view given the never ending psychological torture that Miriam is forced to undergo. However, that harshness is precisely the point because no matter how hard it is to view these scenarios, it is nowhere near as the painful struggle of women like Miriam.

9. The Cruel Sea (1972, Kuwait, Khalid Al Siddiq)

Original title: Bas ya Bahar

The first and only film I have seen from Kuwait so far. The film shows Kuwait before oil brought it plenty of wealth. In the early days before oil, pearl diving was a lucrative way of making a living. However, pearl diving often involved a treacherous 3-4 month journey out in the sea on a boat. The film shows the rituals of the diving season and dangers associated with it. This diving was at a time before scuba gear and other gear that would have these dives easier. In the film, Moussaed (Mohammed Al-Mansour) goes on the trip so that he can make enough money to get married to Nura (Amal Bakr). The genuine highlights of the film are around the close-up scenes of divers on boat at ocean and the impact of heat and exhaustion on the crew.

10. The Little Wars (1982, Lebanon co-production, Maroun Bagdadi)

The film depicts the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 by using a trio of characters as lens to view the differing ideologies and beliefs of those involved. Soraya (Soraya Khoury) is a woman caught in the middle as she watches the two men she likes, Nabil (Nabil Ismaïl) and Talal (Roger Hawa), go off in different political directions.

In real life at the time of filming, Nabil Ismaïl was a photographer covering the civil war as shown in Bagdadi’s documentary Whispers which compliments this feature. In Little Wars, Nabil plays a photographer but a fictionalized version who plots a kidnapping. In both Little Wars and Whispers, the bombed buildings form a backdrop to events and depict impact of the civil war on everyday lives of the residents.

11. It Must be Heaven (2019, Palestine co-production, Elia Suleiman)

Elia Suleiman reprises his mostly silent character who travels from Palestine to Paris and New York. At the film’s start, he quietly observes the regular routines in his neighbourhood whether it is his neighbour stealing lemons from his tree or neighbours fighting or steely confrontations with gang members at a restaurant. Deciding he wants a change of scenery, he packs his bags for Paris and then New York but he finds that no matter where he goes, he encounters reminders of his homeland. Suleiman’s last feature The Time That Remains contained little humour. So he makes up for it by packing this film with delightful vignettes that feature a mix of deadpan or slapstick comedy and offers a meditative look at questions of identity and human behaviour.

In his previous three features (Chronicle of a Disappearance, Divine Intervention, The Time That Remains) Suleiman's character doesn’t speak a word. But in this film, he finally speaks. When asked where he is from, he first says “Nazareth” and then clarifies “I am Palestinian”. His character has aged in the more than 23 years since his first feature. The decision to speak isn’t the only change because in the film’s final scene, his character has a slight change of expression, something which wasn’t present previously. Is the change in expression a sign of hope that maybe things will get better? Although, that hope is hard to come by given events since the film premiered at Cannes in 2019.

12. Le Grand Voyage (2004, Morocco co-production, Ismaël Ferroukhi)

A father wants to make the pilgrimage to Mecca so he asks his son to drive all the way from France to Saudi Arabia. The son is initially not happy with his father’s decision but gradually gains a better understanding of his father as the journey progresses. The film manages to stand out from a traditional road feature by incorporating some engaging elements, such as the mysterious Eastern European woman the duo pick up. The woman’s mysterious disappearance and reappearance fits in perfectly as does the predictable actions of the Turkish man the son befriends. The journey ends up becoming a metaphor for life and each experience helps broaden the son’s mind. The end point of the journey at Mecca features the film’s strongest and most emotional moment.

14. Rana’s Wedding (2002, Palestine co-production, Hany Abu-Assad)

15. Between Heaven and Earth (2019, Palestine co-production, Najwa Najjar)

A beautiful film shows the difficulty of a couple in getting a divorce as the strains of occupation put up new obstacles and uncover a mysterious past.

16. Until the Birds Return (2017, Algeria co-production, Karim Moussaoui)

A fascinating film that combines three stories in a creative and surprising manner. 
Two music sequences come as a surprise but heighten the material.


17. Abou Leila (2019, Algeria/France, Amin Sidi-Boumédiène)

Director Amin Sidi-Boumedine has crafted an incredible film that uses the Algerian civil war as a springboard to dive into long-lasting impact of violence and trauma on citizens. Aided by Kaname Onoyama’s stunning visuals, Abou Leila uses the vast beautiful desert as a worthy canvas to explore this nightmarish tale that is a blend of different genres evoking Lynchian, Western and metaphysical themes.

18. Caramel (2007, Lebanon co-production, Nadine Labaki)

Nadine Labaki’s delightful debut feature is about five women debating their relationships. Four of the five women work in a beauty salon and their day is packed with gossip about their relationships and life in Beirut. The women also support each other and share a nice bond which comes in handy for situations when things get difficult.

19. A Summer in La Goulette (1996, Tunisia co-production, Férid Boughedir)

The bold and witty A Summer in La Goulette tackles a coming of age story of teenage girls, aching to fall in love or having their first kiss and more.

20. Bab’ Aziz (2005, Tunisia co-production, Nacer Khemir)

Bab’Aziz, the third film in Nacer Khemir’s desert trilogy, beautifully depicts the desert’s beauty in each frame. Also, the Sufi music against the background of giant sand dunes makes for a calm and mesmerizing experience.

21. Son of Babylon (2009, Iraq co-production, Mohamed Al Daradji)

Son of Babylon, a beautiful and emotional road journey film, is set a few weeks after the invasion of 2003 and depicts the devastating human impact on the lives of local Iraqis.

22. West Beirut (1998, Lebanon co-production, Ziad Doueiri)

A charming coming of age film related to the start of the Lebanese civil war that highlights how neighbours that got along one day became enemies the next.

23. The Silences of the Palace (1994, Tunisia co-production, Moufida Tlatli)

This film compliments and both contrasts Beauty and the Dogs. In Moufida's film, sexual abuse is not meant to talked about but instead quietly buried within the palace walls.

24. Divine Intervention (2002, Palestine co-production, Elia Suleiman)

Suleiman’s uses his trademark style to highlight absurd scenarios related to borders and checkpoints. There are some delightful references such as the red balloon free to roam across the border and the action sequence straight out of a comic book.

25. Clash (2016, Egypt co-production, Mohamed Diab)

Mohamed Diab’s powerful film depicts the division in Egyptian society that came to a boil in 2013. The entire film takes place in the confined space of a police van and that creates a powerful immersive experience!

Films by nations:

Top 10:

Palestine: 3
Egypt: 2
Algeria: 1
Syria: 1
Tunisia: 1
Kuwait: 1
Lebanon: 1

Women directors (3): Annemarie Jacir (Salt of This Sea), Najma Najjar (Pomegranates and Myrrh), Kaouther Ben Hania (Beauty and the Dogs).

Top 25:

Palestine:  7
Tunisia: 4
Algeria: 3
Egypt: 3
Lebanon: 3
Syria: 2
Kuwait: 1
Morocco: 1
Iraq: 1

6 films by 5 Women directors: Annemarie Jacir (Salt of This Sea), Najma Najjar (Pomegranates and Myrrh, Between Heaven and Earth), Kaouther Ben Hania (Beauty and the Dogs), Nadine Labaki (Caramel), Moufida Tlatli (The Silences of the Palace).

Friday, April 15, 2022

Top French Films of All Time

Coming up with a Best French Films of All Time list is not an easy task given the thousands of worthy films to choose from over a century.

Top 30 French Films roughly in order of preference:

1. Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson)
2. Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon, 1956, Albert Lamorisse)
3. La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939, Jean Renoir)
4. Le Trou (1960, Jacques Becker)
5. Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati)
6. Le samouraï (1967, Jean-Pierre Melville)
7. Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959, François Truffaut)
8. Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows, 1958, Louis Malle)
9. Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear, 1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot)
10. Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962, Agnès Varda)
11. Orphée (Orpheus, 1950, Jean Cocteau)
12. L’Age D’or (1930, Luis Buñuel)
13. L’Intrus (2004, Claire Denis)
14. L’armée des ombres (Army of Shadows, 1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)
15. L’Argent (1983, Robert Bresson)
16. À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
17. Beau Travail (1999, Claire Denis)
18. Du rififi chez les hommes (Rififi, 1955, Jules Dassin)
19. La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
20. Que le bête meure (The Beast Must Die, 1969, Claude Chabrol)
21. Touchez pas au grisbi (Hands off the Loot!, 1954, Jacques Becker)
22. Hiroshima mon Amour (1959, Alain Resnais)
23. Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live, 1962, Jean-Luc Godard)
24. Les Vampires (1915, Louis Feuillade)
25. Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
26. L’année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961, Alain Resnais)
27. La Jetée (1962, Chris Marker)
28. Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, 1961, Jacques Rivette)
29. La maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore, 1973, Jean Eustache)
30. Le genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee, 1970, Eric Rohmer)

List submitted for Wonders in the Dark's French film poll.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Films of Dibakar Banerjee

For a change, I was there at the start. Before I even knew Dibakar Banerjee’s name, I had heard about his first feature film. In 2006, I was co-programming a Spotlight on India for my film festival. My plan was to program 5 films, one from each corner of the country and then the 5th film was to be set in New Delhi. However, back then it was difficult to find a contemporary Indian film set in New Delhi. The new wave of independent films set in Delhi were a few years away and so were the multiple Bollywood films set exclusively in New Delhi. Through a film critic friend, I was put in touch with a distributor who mentioned an upcoming Indian comedy called Khosla Ka Ghosla (Khosla’s Nest) set in Delhi staring Boman Irani, Anupam Kher. The presence of these 2 stellar actors in a non-Bollywood film was enough to convince me. Of course, back then I didn’t know that film would be the first step in the journey of a director who would turn out to be one of Indian Cinema’s most creative directors and whose rise coincided with the emergence of a new wave of story and character driven Independent films, a world away from the melodramatic song-dance Bollywood films.

After Khosla Ka Ghosla, I treated every new Dibakar Banerjee film as an event. I saw all his films as soon as possible. Yet, somehow I missed his most recent film in 2021. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar was meant to be released in 2020 but it was delayed like many other films due to the pandemic. The film was eventually released in 2021 but I didn’t hear about it and I even missed the streaming debut near the end of 2021. But, I have finally seen it. This feels like an appropriate time to look back and collect my thoughts on all of Dibakar’s 6 feature films to date.

Note: this does not cover the three short story anthologies he worked on (Bombay Talkies, Lust Stories, Ghost Stories).

Khosla Ka Ghosla! (Khosla’s Nest, 2006)

A perfect movie that truly captures the essence of a Punjabi family living in New Delhi while depicting land/housing issues that plague middle-class Indians in a realistically manner not seen in any previous Indian film. Part of what makes this film so realistic is how it accurately depicts the mannerisms, habits, conversations of everyday Punjabis in Delhi. The complete cast is excellent with Anupam Kher, Ranvir Shorey, Navin Nischol and Boman Irani giving vintage performances. Full credit to Dibakar Banerjee, Jaideep Sahni (who wrote this gem) and the entire cast/crew for bringing this wonder of a film to life.

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008)

Dikabar’s second feature Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! carries on from the first film in terms of authentically depicting Delhi’s lifestyle. The film mentions that it is inspired by real life events and that feels believable given the scale of robberies depicted in the film.

Oye Lucky!.. is the story of Lucky, a small time crook played by Abhay Deol, who robs for fun and not money.  Eventually, Lucky gets addicted to stealing. When he is bored or can’t fall asleep, he goes on a robbing binge, stealing everything from cars, jewelry, a pet dog or even a stuffed toy. Lucky does not use a gun but simply his confident attitude. In one outrageous example, he walks into a man’s house in broad daylight past the security guard, gets the car key from the house, greets the home owner’s grandmother and orders the security guard to help him keep a tv in the car and drives off, stealing both the car and tv.

The secret to Lucky’s success is his ability to either charm people or emit such confidence that no one can think of him as a robber. Portraying such a confident character is not an easy task but Abhay Deol pulls it off brilliantly and is flawless in his dialogue delivery and body language.

Like his previous film, Dibakar again does justice to little Delhiite details, such as the way instant coffee is made. Only in Delhi homes have I seen coffee made by repeatedly stirring some ground coffee with sugar and a bit of milk until the entire mixture is a whipped up syrupy mixture. The characters in Oye Lucky!.. speak and behave in perfect Delhiite manners, although the film does focus mostly on the Punjabi characters. Plus shooting the film in local Delhi spots adds to the film’s realistic feel.

LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (Love Sex and Betrayal, 2010)

Three words in the title equate to three interlinked stories about honour killing, a sex tape scandal and a sting operation. Like his previous films, Dibakar takes real life events and fashions them into a story rarely seen in Indian cinema.

The first story related to 'Love' is clearly poking fun at Shah Rukh Khan type romantic Bollywood films but things take a turn into darker territory when the girl’s family does not approve of her relationship with a boy. The middle story around sex features CCTV footage and a store manager’s plan to make fast money by making a sex tape of him with one of his co-workers. 'Betrayal' equates in the third story about a sting operation gone wrong.

The stories are nicely linked and the film’s tone ranges from satire to over the top scenarios and self-referential winks at popular media and Bollywood itself. In this regard, the film is a change from Dibakar’s previous two features.

On another note, LSD is the feature film debut of Rajkummar Rao and one of Nushrat Bharucha’s earlier films.

Shanghai (2012)

Shanghai is a brilliant adaptation of Vassilis Vassilikosis’ Z, a vital novel made into an award winning by Costa-Gavras (1969). The original material is thoroughly immersed in Greek society and politics but seeing Banerjee’s film treatment, it feels like the story is purely Indian. This is due to the similarities that exist between Greece and India in terms of the material: corrupt politicians, an angry mob waiting to always pour their hatred out at whoever they are told to, poverty turning ordinary people into criminals. In addition, the three-wheeler at the center of the Greek story exists in India although in Banerjee’s film, a truck replaces the three-wheeler (often known as an ‘auto’ in Northern India).

Some of the inspired casting enhances the film. Abhay Deol, the brazen robber in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, plays a rare honest Indian government official in the film. Emraan Hashmi, who made his name in Bollywood films for kissing his female co-stars, is shown to be completely unkissable in this film. Farooq Shaikh, who rose to fame by playing multiple honest everyday characters in 1980s cinema, plays a corrupt politician hiding in an honest man’s clothing. The rest of the cast is packed with arresting performances delivered with relish by prominent Indian actors/actresses: Prasenjit Chatterjee, Supriya Pathak, Tillotama Shome, Kalki Koechlin, Pitobash.

Note: By this stage, other film festivals and the larger film community had discovered Dibakar. Shanghai played at TIFF.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)

Based on Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s character, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a pulp noir delight. Set in November 1942 Calcutta, the intriguing plot features a shifting political WWII landscape. The British are still in India but talk of independence is firmly in the air. Of course, part of that independence involves various groups jostling for power with their own interests in mind. Therefore, the story features a plot involving an underground Indian revolutionary group, a possible Japanese invasion, a Chinese opium trade gang, a femme fatale, spies and a detective on the case of a missing person. All these different threads are smartly tied together and presented in a dark mystery. Near the end, the darkness gives way to horror with some blood gushing violence that is a far cry from other films of Dibakar Banerjee.

The late Sushant Singh Rajput is lovely as the titular character with his perceptive observations rendered with an innocence that cuts against the worldly ruthlessness of Neeraj Kabi’s character (Dr. Guha). Even though the story features multiple characters, the film ends up being a chess match between Byomkesh and his foe, akin to Sherlock vs Moriarty.

Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (Sandeep and Pinky have fled, 2021)

Banerjee’s newest film is a wicked delight that balances its dark comedic sequences with some moments of genuine darkness. A police officer, Pinky (Arjun Kapoor), has to drive Sandy (Parineeti Chopra) to a location but both are in the dark about their destination. Pinky is a suspended police officer looking to get back in the force and will do anything to get his job back. As a way to get his job back, Pinky’s boss asks him to pick and drop off Sandy. Pinky doesn’t ask any further questions and goes about his job. However, Pinky is jolted awake when he witnesses police officers assassinate what they mistakenly think is Pinky’s car. Now, realizing that both his and Sandy’s lives are in danger, Pinky and Sandy go on the run. The brazen police assassination makes Pinky question who Sandy is and why someone wants her dead. Initially, Pinky and the audience are led to believe that the reason for Sandy’s killing is related to an office affair gone wrong but as the film progresses, we learn that instead the reason for silencing Sandy is due to a multi-million dollar money fraud scheme.

Events unfold in a realistic manner expected of a Dibakar Banerjee film. The two characters’ behaviour and their actions while on the run are entirely believable given their personalities and backgrounds. The film contains some worthy flourishes including an ending sequence which is not what one would have expected given the film’s start. A dark sequence shown in the film is quite stunning in showcasing the transformation of the characters behaviour and body language. In the scene, an otherwise harmless bank employee discovers Sandy’s real identity. Believing he now has the upper hand, he attempts to sexually assault Sandy. In just one sequence, the film shows the fear that women have to live with in India and in many parts of the world.

Finally, the film’s flipping of the two character’s names adds to the film’s humour: Pinky is traditionally a nickname for a girl while Sandeep is more commonly a male name.

Rough Ranking of Dibakar’s films:

1. Khosla Ka Ghosla
2. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
3. Shanghai
4. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar
5. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!
6. LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha