Friday, September 15, 2023

Mohammad Rasoulof's A Man of Integrity

A Man of Integrity (2017, Iran, Mohammad Rasoulof)

Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) leaves the politics of the city for a simple life in a Northern Iranian village. There, with his wife and child, he works hard in his goldfish farm leading an honest life. However, Reza’s honest livelihood is under threat when a company starts to take control of resources and land around him. Reza thought he had left politics behind but he slowly finds himself surrounded by corruption. Like a character straight out of a Western film, Reza is forced to fight to preserve his land while slowly learning how the system really works.

Winner of the Un Certain Award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Mohammad Rasoulof’s powerful A Man of Integrity (original title Lerd) is a timely film. Even though the film is rooted in Iran, the underlying theme is universal as the film smartly shows how corruption can take hold in society aided by men who lurk in shadows and pull the strings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Lokesh Kanagaraj's movies

The films of Lokesh Kanagaraj 

Maanagaram (2017)
Kaithi (2019)
Master (2021)
Vikram (2022)

Given that recently cinema has all been about multiverses, here’s another one to add to the pile: Lokesh Cinematic Universe (LCU). This term was ushered in shortly after the release of Lokesh’s Vikram (2022) which has a sequence in the final 30 min that introduces a tie-in with characters from Lokesh’s earlier film Kaithi. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) are the most well known multiverses but there are others. Gundala is the first in Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU). For a few years now, Indian Cinema has been jumping on this multiverse idea as Yash Raj Films has their Spy Universe, Rohit Shetty has his cop universe (led by Singham), Brahmastra trilogy is called Astraverse. Now Lokesh has laid tracks with his Kaithi/Vikram tie-in.

The essence of these multiverse movies is that characters from one movie can appear in another, be it in a cameo or an extended part. This is possible as a lot of these big budget films aren’t tied to a coherent plot with roots in reality. The MCU has freed all of these franchises from this pretense. In Marvel’s movies, no character can ever be killed or even if they do die, then a prequel or backstory would appear or the character could reappear from another parallel universe. On the surface, things should be different with Lokesh’s films as all his characters are mortal humans but they depict comic book hero traits as the male characters in his films are able to withstand unlimited number of punches, hits and bullets yet still manage to get back up. Therefore, LCU fits in with other such multiverses in been able to retain and reuse characters.

Maanagaram (translation: Metropolis) - the savage city

Lokesh’s debut feature depicts inter-crossing paths of a few strangers with local gangsters. Their interaction, including a case of mistaken identity, sets in motion a series of events which turn their lives upside down. The film takes place in Chennai (formerly Madras) and depicts the savage nature of a large city that can chew people up and crush their hopes and dreams. This savage nature of a large city is a universal aspect and applies to most major cities around the world. On one hand, people flock to the larger cities in the hopes of finding a job and a better life but on the other hand, the metropolitan cities can knock people down in many ways. There are many examples of such depictions in cinema, especially in Hindi language cinema that often depicts Mumbai (Bombay) as a living breathing animal that feeds on people.


In Lokesh’s second feature film, Kaithi, Dilli (Karthi) is just released from jail after serving a 10 year sentence and can’t wait to go see his daughter. Yet, fate throws many obstacles in his way and as it turns out, he ends up being the only person who can save a local police station from a ruthless criminal network determined to do anything to retrieve their confiscated drugs. As in many Indian films, Dilli is cut from the same cloth as a comic book hero though he wears no costume or a cape. He may be a mere human but is a human who cannot die. No bullets, knives, fists (mostly fists) or metal rods can injure him enough. 1 vs 5, handled easily with eyes closed. 1 vs 10, easy. 1 vs 20, no problem. 1 vs 100, still easy but some sweat and blood is shed. The film is a significant jump in production quality from Lokesh’s first feature and the tension builds up leading to an incredible explosive climax.


Vijay Joseph plays JD, an honest teacher, who is his community's last hope against an organized drug world run by a street smart man (Bhavani played by Vijay Sethupathi) who learnt from a young age how to manipulate the system. Society did Bhavani wrong, so he sets about taking his revenge on society. The scenes with the two actors (Vijay vs Vijay) are fascinating as is the incredible energetic musical number, The Master is Coming.

Vikram: truly a savage city

Vikram is the most polished of Lokesh’s four films to date. On top of that, it features three giants of Southern cinema: Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil.


Some scenes in the film are electric especially those involving Kamal Haasan. Nonetheless, Vijay Sethupathi's character makes quite the entry in the film as Srikanth nicely captures in his review: 

"The devil here goes by the name of Sandhanam and it has the likeness of Vijay Sethupathi, whose entry is one of the film’s visual highs: emerging like a newborn from an upturned autorickshaw, this bloody, bulky baby executes a neat flip and lands on its feet. Casting off its shirt, it puts on a pair of shades and wraps its hands behind, close to the body."

There is an intriguing investigative film buried in Vikram, one which involves a phantom pursuit between Amar (Fahadh Faasil) and Vikram (Kamal Haasan). Those sequences have the promise of a nice thriller film. In addition, some moments echo some of the noirish/pulp shades of Johnny Gaddaar. Alas, these investigative thriller moments end up being a minor footnote to the larger action that is promised by the trailer and ultimately delivered. Perhaps, there is a fully realized thriller version of Vikram that exists somewhere out there in the multiverse!

Near the film’s end, a link is formed with Kaithi and thus is born the Lokesh Cinematic Universe. Kaithi and Vikram are different in terms of their scope but there are some common elements between the two: the criminal underworld, the night setting, and a gigantic explosive gun used to slay the opposition.

Where to next?

Vikram appears to act as a line in the sand for Lokesh Kanagaraj. There is no going back to the low budget days of his first film Maanagaram. Instead, the budget for subsequent Lokesh films will only increase and he will have to up the ante in terms of action and violence. His upcoming film Leo looks to be a no holds barred violent film.

It was recently announced that Lokesh will cast superstar legend Rajinikanth in his next film. Then there are the subsequent sequels to Vikram/Kaithi in the wings. More violence and more knives and guns await.

Friday, September 01, 2023

The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

A director spotlight can provide a focused ways to look at films. One can focus on certain signposts that identify the auteurial qualities of a director or one can discover a director’s diverse range. The latter is the case when watching the films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade as part of an excellent Kino Lorber Blu-Ray package.

Prior to watching these films I had associated Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s name with the deliriously creative and shape-shifting Macunaima (1969). That is why it is a real surprise to see Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s range features a contemplative black and white film, engaging documentaries, a telenovela type of film and fiercely political films. The end result is a rich cinematic buffet to devour.

Cinema Novo

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade is a prominent director of Brazil’s Cinema Novo and as per this Indie Film Hustle article, his films would be classified under Phases 2 and 3. He made his fictional debut with O Padre e a Moça (The Priest and the Girl, 1965), a film that stands at an opposite end of the spectrum from Macunaima in style, story and rhythm. Macunaima dazzles with over-the-top colour and scenarios which rapidly shift gears from myth, folklore, societal and cultural commentary to intense politics. On the other end of the spectrum is The Priest and the Girl, a black and white film that is realistic and has a much more contemplative rhythm than that of the rapid pace of
Joaquim Pedro’s other films. In addition, the film’s title and topic evokes Bresson while the town setting feels similar to the parched landscape of Glauber Rocha's films. Other than seeing Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s name in the credits, there is no clue that The Priest and the Girl and Macunaima are directed by the same person.

The other
Joaquim Pedro films bring an equal amount of surprise as well. His first directed feature,  Garrincha: Joy of the People (1963), is a footage driven ode to Garrincha, one of the greatest soccer players to have ever graced the beautiful game. The short film Brasilia: Contradictions of a New City (1967) is an insightful newsreel short film that introduces the many head shaking contradictions of Brasilia. Then there is Conjugal Warfare (1975) which is a sex comedy that takes the essence of a telenovela/soap opera. This film feels at odds with the rest of Joaquim Pedro’s works in terms of execution, style and even topic. The Conspirators (1972) is a deeply layered political period film that details some of the complex debates, side deals, and negotiations that took as part of the Minas Gerais Conspiracy (1788-1789). Joaquim Pedro's final film, The Brazilwood Man (1982), is a playful film that challenges conventional film form and structure by using two actors (male, female) simultaneously to depict the masculine-feminine sides of Oswald de Andrade.

All the films in this Blu-Ray package are different and highlight why people make films. Sometimes, some directors have a burning desire to tell a story and sometimes, their hand is forced by financial realities which takes them in a different direction.

Other Reading

Olaf Möller in Film Comment

Cinema of Cannibalism

Cinema Novo

Another Cinema Novo reference