Monday, March 22, 2010

Liberating the Prisoner

A prisoner. Unshaven, haggard and released from a physical prison. Beat up apartment. Old typewriter. Click, click. Novel. Money. Maya. Liberation.

Siddharth: The Prisoner (2008, India, Pryas Gupta)

After Siddarth is released from prison, he goes about unburdening his soul by feverishly typing away his novel on an old typewriter using scribbled notes from his prison term. When he has finished the book, he heads to an internet cafe to send an email to his publisher. After he pays the internet cafe manager, Mohan, he picks up a wrong briefcase and leaves the briefcase with his novel behind. The incorrect bag, that Mohan was looking after for a gangster, is full of money. Sid is delighted to come across this fortune, especially since the money can assist in his plan. We learn later on in the film that the purpose of his book is to regain some of the fame and money that he had prior to his prison term so that he can have a chance to win the custody of his son in a divorce battle with his wife. Now with money in front of him, Sid thinks he can bypass a step in his process. Naturally, Mohan gets in trouble over losing the money and goes about trying to locate Sid in order to save his own life. It turns out that the money will not be enough for Sid so he needs to locate his novel. As both men try to rectify their mistakes, their desperation and methods parallel each other’s. At one stage in the film, both men photocopy items they need to return (the novel in Mohan's case, money in Sid's case) because they want to cover up losses they have encountered along the way – Mohan accidentally ends up burning some pages of the novel and Sid spends some of the money.

The simple story is filmed so beautifully and poetically by Pryas Gupta that one hardly notices the lack of dialogue spoken by Rajat Kapoor in his role as Sid. The pacing of the scenes is leisurely, the action is not rushed and the camera allows us to observe all relevant details without trying to spoon feed anything. The Buddhist ending of Siddharth.. shares a sentiment with Pan Nalin's wonderful Samsara and is perfectly in keeping with the tone and nature shown in the film. In Siddharth.., we see Sid slowly realize that money, the longing for his son, the need to get his book published are weights that are dragging his soul down and are preventing him from observing the illusionary nature of his life. Gradually, Sid starts to shed all his worldly chains and is completely liberated in the end. The final shot also echoes what Lisandro Alonso established with Farrel's walk towards the snowy landscape in Liverpool.

Gupta's first film marks one of the best debuts by an Indian director in the last few years. It is clear that Gupta has not compromised anything as the filming style represents a clear vision that he had for this treatment, something that is rare to find in a majority of Indian films where directors are forced to bow down to producer interference. When Siddharth.. was released in Indian theaters in 2009 hardly anyone saw the movie and the few critics that did slammed it. Thankfully, the film is now available on DVD in most Indian stores and hopefully through word of mouth this film will finally get the audience that it deserves. This is a movie that needs to be seen and is one of the best Indian movies to have been made in recent years and Pryas Gupta keeps the hope alive that there are cinephiles in India who are capable of making intelligent and thoughtful films.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alonso vs Martel, 2nd Leg

The 1st leg between these two film-makers was summarized back in summer 2009 where Alonso's Los Muertos was the clear winner over Martel's La ciénaga.

The second leg was to feature Alonso's Liverpool vs Martel's The Headless Woman. The Martel feature was first out of the gate and found it much better than La ciénaga. Still, I felt that if Alonso's Liverpool was as good as Los Muertos, then he would easily be the winner.

It turns out that Alonso's Liverpool is much better than Los Muertos and as a result, his film easily wins the second leg over the Martel feature.

Space, Environment and Freedom

While both Martel and Alonso are very good directors, liking one over the other depends on personal choice. The reason I prefer Alonso is because his films allow one to breathe in the environment because his camera is very flexible in capturing space around his characters whereas Martel restricts space because she wants to get in close with not so nice rich characters, people who are not meant to be liked in the first place. Alonso’s characters are probably not nice either. The character, Vargas, in Los Muertos is released from Jail for murder while Farrel in Liverpool ran away from home committing a possible rape but since Alonso places a distance between audience and his characters, we can observe freely and objectively. Plus Alonso takes the audience on a ride through an Argentine country side we hardly see on screen whereas Martel's features are rooted in cities -- all three of Martel's features are filmed in Salta.

Parallels -- Land & Water

Both Los Muertos and Liverpool start with two lonely men leaving a confined space and heading off into a vast open land. Their modes of transportation vary a little as Los Muertos starts on land and then moves onto water (via a boat) while Liverpool starts on a ship and then moves onto land. Both films contain men trying to search for their past in order to find a closure. The ending of Liverpool signifies liberation as one can see all the weight from Farrel's shoulders drop off and he walks away lighter into the snowy landscape.

The lonely nature of Farrel's journey in Liverpool also reminds of the main character in Carlos Reygadas’ Japon. The two characters are almost mirrors of each other but with a different past and journey purpose. In Japon, the character wants to end his life whereas in Liverpool Farrel seeks closure so as to live the rest of his life in peace.

Essential Alonso Reading

Michael Guillen's excellent interview with Alonso at the Evening Class.

James Quandt's brilliant essay in Art Forum which overlooks all of Alonso’s works.

The 2010 Movie World Cup

Argentina, in the form of Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool, is so far a leading contender for winning my movie world cup. Although there should be strong competition from Portugal (via Pedro Costa), Brazil, Germany, Spain and France. Interestingly, all these teams will be among the favourites in the summer soccer tournament as well.

The Best Cinema

The two best films of 2010 might be not be seen at Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York or Mumbai. Instead, they might be discovered in 90 minute segments shown only for a single night in both Barcelona & North London. It is hard to imagine how scripted cinema can possibly compete with the technical genius, skill and talent that will be on display when Barcelona play Arsenal over two mouth watering Champions League ties. It would have been pleasure enough to watch the two best football playing sides on the planet go against each other but what makes things fascinating are the other stories that will be found just besides the football.

  • Arsenal legend Thierry Henry will return back to North London in front of his adoring fans. Plus, Henry will go against players who emerged from his shadow.

  • Arsenal captain Cesc Fàbregas will return to his home city to the club he joined at the tender age of 10. Arsenal signed Cesc when he turned 16 but there have always been rumours as to when Cesc would resign for Barcelona.

  • Cesc vs Messi -- both were childhood friends who trained together at Barca's youth team. Now, the two are not only the biggest stars of their respective teams but also the best players in the world.

  • Wenger vs Guardiola -- Wenger's genius & achievements are well documented along with his flaws & failures, but the young Guardiola has managed to outdo Wenger in winning all club trophies possible in his short managerial career. And it wouldn't be far fetched to imagine that one day Guardiola could replace Wenger at Arsenal because both managers believe in playing good football, involving slick passing and imaginative space creation.

  • There are plenty of other intriguing match-ups, especially those involving Barca's genius duo of Xavi (provided he recovers from his injury) & Iniesta, who are responsible for pulling all the strings, vs Nasri & Song.

    While Arsenal's beautiful football was only formed when Wenger took over the club in 1996, Barcelona's legacy for good football goes all the way back to 1973 when the Dutch Master and co-creator of total football Johan Cruyff stepped foot in the Nou Camp. Both sets of fans have been spoiled for good football over the decades and so one can be sure the two legged affair will not resort to the boring dull 'tactical' football that is played in some other parts of Europe. That being said, the games might not feature a lot of goals, but atleast the technical level of the game will be top notch.

    Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno used 17 cameras to capture every moment of Zidane in their film but even 170 cameras will not be enough for these two games as there are plenty of worthy players whose every move deserves to be recorded.

    Those other games..

    It is easy to forget that there are 3 other quarter-final ties and two of them should be quite interesting.

    Lyon vs Bordeaux -- The all French affair is eye catching for many reasons. After Barcelona and Arsenal, it is Lyon who have produced some of the best football in the Champions League over the years but unfortunately for Lyon, their good football normally ends prior to the Quarter Final stages. Domestically, Lyon won 7 straight league titles until Bordeaux ended that run last season and currently, Bordeaux are narrowly sitting atop Ligue 1. So if Lyon are to progress and reach their first ever Champions League Semi-Final then it makes sense they overcome their current domestic rivals. Meanwhile Bordeaux can challenge Lyon's European credentials if they reach the semi's of the CL before Lyon. Plus, the current Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc is highly sought after so this tie gives him a chance to further enhance his reputation as one of Europe's brightest new managers.

    Bayern Munich vs Man Utd -- It all goes back to 1999 on an incredible night in the Nou Camp when Man Utd stole the European Cup away from Bayern Munich with two goals in the final minutes. The two have met a few times since then, but that 1999 game should be plenty of incentive for the Germans. And for Manchester, well something about an English vs German rivalry that is hard to miss.

    Inter Milan vs CSKA Moscow -- Inter & Jose have been all over the news after their well deserved & phenomenal win over Chelsea. CSKA will not be an easy opponent but it is hard to see how the Russians can stop Inter, especially if Inter are brave enough to continue with three forwards and let Wesley Sneijder do his magic.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Memory + Image

    Back in 2005, I came across an intriguing Mexican film called Sangre by Amat Escalante. Even though there were plenty of wonderful moments and memorable images in the film, I had mixed overall feelings because I found a few segments frustrating. Still, I could never forget the images I saw in Sangre and one of my favourite sequences in the film takes place when the main character Diego finds his small car against a giant mound of garbage. As the camera draws back, the full scale of the mountain of garbage is made apparent. But Diego is not concerned with the mountain of garbage to his left. Instead his eyes are further ahead because he needs to search for something in another mountain of garbage. The difficulty of his task is made apparent while one can't help but think of the sheer wastage that humans are leaving behind, as the garbage dump is only one of millions that exist throughout the planet.

    When I had seen Sangre I had not seen anything by Carlos Reygadas. Now having seen all of the three features Reygadas has directed, I have a better appreciation of what Escalante attempted with Sangre. Escalante was an assistant director on Reygadas' Battle in Heaven and Reygadas was a producer on Sangre. As a result, there are plenty of similarities between Sangre & Battle in Heaven, like the usage of unprofessional actors to depict the everyday mundane lives of ordinary characters and awkward sex scenes featuring people with non-model like bodies, aspects which one rarely finds in films. In fact, Sangre makes for a worthy double bill along with Battle in Heaven because the two films compliment each other so well.

    I still have not seen Escalante's second feature Los bastardos but it is high on my list of films to watch. And both Escalante & Reygadas have short features in Revolución, a film that recently showed at the Berlin Film Festival. The other directors who contributed segments in Revolución are Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Rodrigo García, Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Eimbcke, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá and Patricia Riggen. Definitely, Revolución is one film to look out for.

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Song but no dance

    The year is only a few months old but it is hard to believe that there will be too many Indian songs this year that will be more soulful than Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji found on the soundtrack of Ishqiya.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    Football & Film reading...

    The Kicking Culture, part III

    Some things are completely predictable. On cue, British players and managers are coming forward to offer support to Ryan Shawcross, the player responsible for breaking the leg of the extremely talented and promising 19 year old Aaron Ramsey. Only in English football can people who commit wrong be seen as victims. On the other hand, nothing is being said of Ramsey, the person whose future seemed so bright. Now, one can only wish that Ramsey recovers as soon as possible.

    Thankfully there are a few intelligent and sane voices who are standing up. Martin Samuel of the Times puts things perfectly:
    Yet malicious intent - the motivation to actually cause serious injury - is rare in football. One thinks of Roy Keane’s tackle on Alf Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby or the one by Gavin Maguire of Queens Park Rangers that ended the career of England full back Danny Thomas, and resulted in a compensation pay-out of £130,000.

    Shawcross did not tackle Ramsey like that. He did however arrive late and with sufficient abandon to lose any chance of controlling the consequences. The greatest sickness in English football is that we do not recognise the wrong in that. 'Spare me about how nice Shawcross is,' Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said acidly; but the testimonials to his decency were already under construction.

    But Martin Samuel's words are rare to find in both English and American media. One has to turn to various Arsenal blogs to find the truth.

    DannyT is spot on as usual in his Arsenal Truth blog:
    The only way the truly talentless can make a career for themselves in the Premier League is by replacing their lack of skill and technique with aggression and antagonism - anti-football. Why applaud that? What's that got to do with "the beautiful game"? Last time I heard, football was about 22 players kicking a ball around - not 11 players kicking the ball around while various others players try to impede them through intimidation, ferociousness and long throw-ins.

    How many more Aaron Ramsey's do we have to witness before the FA grows a spine and drives this scourge out of the game.

    And why do pundits applaud these tactics? For the life of me, I've never understood it. There is only one thing to applaud in football, skill! I'm not saying there is no place for the well-timed tackle, high-speed closing down, a shoulder barge or some grappling in the box - but there is never a reason to break a players leg. To break a players leg requires considerable force, the type of force that is never warranted or required to win a small round ball in a tackle - except perhaps in the most freakish of incidents, once every 20 years! Not three times in three years for one club, it's obscene.

    Plenty of excellent evidence is gathered by Tim at 7amkickoff & Arseblog which show that Shawcross is a chronic leg breaker and not the nice guy the media is painting him to be. It is sad that the media are not doing the objective journalistic job they are meant to do and are instead so biased.


    It is extremely rare to find any discussion of football tactics in British papers as most soccer related articles are centered on a player's "commitment", "attitude" and "character". Yet, none of these things would matter if a team is not tactically prepared to handle an opponent. Which is why Jonathan Wilson's articles are so welcome because he breaks a game down in terms of the tactical details. Heck, he ever wrote an insightful book on the history of soccer tactics (Inverting the Pyramid). His newest article sees him outline Egypt's 3-5-2 formation prior to their match against England.


    There's a brand spanking new issue of Indian Auteur out. The online magazine format certainly makes for a beautiful reading experience. On the other hand, one can access the articles via individual links. The Notes on Directors and Director's Report Card gives a worthy run down of current Indian directors plying their trade. And just like bad football, the bad directors continue to hog the headlines.

    Monday, March 01, 2010

    The Secret Society

    English Football's Secret Society:

    There is a secret footballing society that exists in England and whose members trace their lineage back to the old days when the game first caught on in England. Currently, the members meet once a month just on the skirts of Stonehenge when the sun goes down. Some of the current Premier League managers sit on the member’s board. Most of the conversations revolve around the current nature of the game and how the game has gone ’soft’. The members long for the old days of the game when players never shied away from a tackle, when players were willing to shed blood for their team. The meetings always end when all the members quietly look at Argentina’s goal against Serbia from the 2006 World Cup where Argentina strung together 24 passes to put the ball into the net. The members are always horrified to look at this goal and vow that their English Premier League will never become like this. They vow that they will never allow one team to manage more than a few passes before a player gets taken out. They want to preserve a 'strong' league where players can take it like a man, where players can freely break other players legs and where players always get "stuck in".

    The only thorn in this member’s sight is Arsenal, the only team that defies this society's beliefs. Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey have been victims of this society’s puppet pulls in 2006, 2008 and 2010 respectively. Other Arsenal players are constantly on the agenda as well. If Arsenal win in the face of such ugliness, then the society’s beliefs will be challenged and football in England might be saved. Otherwise if Arsenal continue to fall victim to these teams, then darkness will set in completely and English football will once again be nothing but long balls, fouling and leg breaking tackles.