The Sapphires -- An Australian Feel-Good Comedy


                                There are reasons why Wayne Blair's "The Sapphires" (2012) shouldn't work as a movie. The narrative is ragged at times. It's full of one-dimensional characters and half the scenes set around the Vietnam war is totally unconvincing. All of that said, this story is still an energetic, amusing and resolutely feel-good comedy that also happens to incorporate a lot of soul music and dancing. 

                                 The film opens in a dusty remote town in Australia, 1968. Three sisters (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell) from an aboriginal family are trying to make a go as a singing group. The McCrae sisters dominates the singing competition with their lovely country-western songs -but loses because of a bigoted judge, who simply won't give the top prize to a bunch of Aborigines. However, they meet a boozy Irish keyboard player named Dave (Chris O'Dowd). 

                               He becomes their manager — provided they’ll leave the fretful country and western and switch to his preferred genre, soul. “Ninety percent of all recorded music is shite,” reckons Chris and "The other 10% is soul.” He takes them to Vietnam to play soul music for the American troops. The girls also recruit the long-estranged half-caste cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) as a fourth member. The trip offers them a chance to round off their music skills as well as find romance.  The oppressiveness of war and racism serves as a backdrop to the film’s zippy core. 

                                The movie is based upon a 2004 stage production by Aboriginal writer Tony Briggs. He was inspired by the tale of his mother and three aunts who in real-life made the improbable journey from amateur singers at an Australian mission through to entertaining American troops in Vietnam. Their inspirational tale provides a basic framework for the story on which to add a layer of comedy and romance. The script at times seems a bit of a disconnect between weighty issues and sibling niggling. 

                                 Making his feature debut, director Wayne Blair does an excellent job of overriding the cliches and structural problems by playing up the performers' appeal and energy. But Blair misses the deep social commentary and the American race issues are barely mentioned (strange given the context of the group's background). 

                                 Playing the boozy manager, Dave, Chris O'Dowd of "Bridesmaids" fame keeps the proceedings bouncy even when the script loses its own fizz. Mailman, as the elder sister is very effective in her vociferous arguments with O'Dowd as the friendship of the singer and promoter turns into a love affair. The characters of the other three Sapphire girls are marginally developed but they provide gentle laughs and infectious soul numbers. 

                              "The Sapphires" is a breezily accessible musical comedy, if you can overlook the cheesy dialogues and few neglected subplots. 

Trailer


The Sapphires -- IMDb

Sightseers -- A Brutal British Black Comedy


                                   "Mum, Yorkshire is lovely and not like you said at all" says the knitting enthusiast Tina, who has a caravanning holiday with ginger-bearded Chris. The cross-country road trip turns out to be surprisingly good. The only problem is they knock off the more obnoxious characters they encounter en route. Following "Kill List", Ben Wheatley gives us another darkly disturbing movie titled "Sightseers" (2013). A film about an odd couple with a shared love of serial killing. 

                                     Tina (Alice Lowe) is 34, lives at home with an nettlesome mother (Eileen Davies). She and her mother are mourning the death of beloved pooch, Poppy. Tina has a boyfriend named Chris (Steve Oram). They have been together for three months and it is about time for them to hit the road on a holiday. They head off to visit some of the British heritage sites such as Crich Tramway Village and the Keswick Pencil Museum. A litterbug at the Tramway museum instigates Chris fury. Soon he was rundown by Chris' caravan, which is reported as an accident. Bodies start to fall when the couples relationship deepens and darkens. Violent rash deaths follow one after another as they visit a series of tourist attractions. 


                               The improbable setting of the story is just one of the things that makes co-stars and co-writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe’s high-concept idea such a uniquely funny proposition. The story must have been improvised many times because, as the bodies pile up, the deadpan dialogue and timing is impeccable. The additional material by Amy Jump (Wheatley's wife) rounds up the screenplay with the perfectly formed characters.

                             Like the uniquely dark and funny setting, the film is also blessed with Wheatley's direction, who sets the masterful tone. Wheatley started his directing career with the acclaimed feature "Down Terrace" and followed it with "Kill List". Both the movies exposes the angry underbelly of modern life. With "Sightseers" he once again gives us a Britain, which is dotted with ‘heritage’ spots like the Keswick Pencil Museum, and a mental landscape where priorities are seriously out of whack. Like John Waters' "Serial Mom" and the recent "God Bless America", this film also contains characters with questionable taste, who get to decide who lives or dies according to their own corrupt code. Although the violence is gory at times, it gives us a guilty-pleasure, in which murder is treated as a problem-solving tool for those who lack the human skills to sort things out like civilized folk. 

                               Oram and Lowe's wry performance brings out the psychological nuances of two lonely people beaten down by life suddenly finding each other. They have a marvelous neurotic chemistry, making it to root for their relationship in spite of these new-found habits. Ultimately their relationship raises a serious question:  How does a couple make it work when the two can’t agree on an acceptable motive for killing imbeciles? Eileen Davis gives a fantastic supporting performance as Tina's overbearing mother.  The premise loses its momentum in the middle parts but for a good part of the trip, this film offers disturbingly good fun. The striking nature of the climax feels oddly revelatory.

                              "Sightseers" is an unique British black comedy, which should be seen for the impressive direction of Wheatley and if you don't mind the disorienting mood shifts.

Trailer


Sightseers -- IMDb

The Other Son -- Positive and Humane


                                  Infants switched at birth -- This is an old, potent one in both literature and movies. From Shakespeare to a Bollywood masala, this plot point has been used numerous times. The French-Israeli co-production "The Other Son" (Le fils de l'autre) (2012) takes that comedy cliche and turns it into a compelling, humanistic family drama, even if some viewers may disapprove the film's final note of optimism. To make a movie that condenses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a matter of mistaken identity is not an easy task. But, director Lorraine Levy handles the task with aplomb what could easily have been a messy mix of emotions and politics.

                                During the 1991 missile attack (Gulf war) in Haifa, Israel, a hospital is speedily evacuated. Amidst the chaos, the two infants in the maternity ward are switched. One is Joseph and the other is Yacine. Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is a aspiring 18-year old musician, who was an Arab Muslim by blood but was raised in Tel Aviv by Jewish parents Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and Alon (Pascal Elbe).Jospeh has signed to join in the air-force, like his friends. In that process, a blood test reveals that he is not the son of Orith and Army commander Alon. 


                          Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), Jewish by birth, is studying to be a doctor. He was raised in West Bank village by the Palestinian parents Soon, we see the Jewish parents sitting next to Leila and Saïd Al Bezaaz (Areen Omari and Khalifa Natour). Both the fathers are struck with shock, whereas the mothers share a heartbroken moment. Later, the parents breaks the news to their sons and they must now confront their true identities despite being raised according to the opposing beliefs of their non-biological parents.

                           Director Lorraine Levy and co-writer Nathalie Saugeon handles the drama with sensitivity  as the teenagers tries to cope with the new situation. A story like this is never possible in the real life. But, the movie becomes an enlightened attempt to see the upside of an impossible political situation. It makes us think that how we would feel under similar circumstances. One of the most memorable sequence in the film is when Joseph makes a visit on his own to Palestine and meets his blood brother Bilal (Mahmood Shalabi), who is a very angry young man with a deep-seated hatred of the Jews. In the dinner table, faced with coldness, Joseph breaks the ice with a song that brings them all together to sing joyously. 


                             Both the young actors are very convincing in their roles, who might easily have succumbed to the devastating news. Veteran French actress Devos gives an outstanding performance as Orith. However, not all about the movie is totally convincing. The ending is very average. It finishes like a over-dramatic TV movie. There are some overwrought dialogues and heavy-handed plot points, as well. 

                             The ending and other flaws could be ignored, because the drama that precedes it is bold and meaningful, reminding us that the skill and sensitivity of the actors and director can turn a shaky parable of tolerance into a graceful and touching story. "The Other Son" is simple yet earnest at the same time. 

Trailer


The Other Son -- IMDb

The Lodger -- The Silent Hitchcock


                               "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog" (1927) -- This is not the first Hitchcock film, but this was the first true Hitchcock movie because it's about a murder, it's a suspense thriller. A man's face distorted in a tea urn; Looking straight down a stairwell, we see a hand holding the rail, circling as a character descends the stairs -- We see all these kinds of impeccable visual ideas in this early silent Hitchcock movie.

                                 Hitchcock is obsessed with blonde virgins. In "Lodger", the impulsive character is played by  actress named June Tripp. The movie is about "The Avenger", who kills blondes every Tuesday (yeah, the idea looks preposterous even for a early silent Hitchcock flick). A mysterious stranger takes lodgings at the Buntings' house. Their girl Daisy takes a shine to him. The lodger leaves the house late Tuesday, and the next murder occurs. Daisy's boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective suspects the lodger and arrests him. The lodger escapes with Daisy, is chased by a crowd and is almost killed by them (the plot is so simple). 

                               The early Hitchcock shines in most of the visual ideas, which has later metamorphosed into more mature and arresting visuals. In the film, when two men deliver newspapers in a van, their heads in the windows are like the pupils of eyes. We see the lodger walking up and down his room through a glass ceiling. The flashing neon sign "To-Night Golden Curls" is repeated throughout the movie, as a sign of the constant presence of The Avenger. 

                            At the end, The Avenger, is imprisoned, the hero and heroine kiss in the bright light, while the neon sign still flashes in the black night behind them. For the first half of the movie, the lodger is dressed in black and placed in shadows, so we don't like/trust him. After the murder, and the family suspect of him being The Avenger, the lodger is dressed in nice, light clothes and his room is bright, so we trust him. 

                          Hitchcock always maintained that his cameo roles were a bit of fun at first, and then it became a superstition. Finally, when the public expected it, he got them over with as soon as possible. This film has two Hitchcock appearances. First, he is seated in a newsroom as a extra -- a big enough guy to fill the space. Later, wearing a cap, he's seen leaning against the railings when the lodger is caught. 

                           If you can watch silent movies patiently, you will love this one. For Hitchcock fans, "The Lodger" is a must watch. 



The Lodger -- IMDb

Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" --- An Analysis


                                  Back in the 1950s, Francois Truffaut had written a brief treatment for a crime inspired by a news story, but the project was sidelined while he made "400 Blows." After the surprise success of his debut feature, he began to develop other films and passed his original treatment on to Godard, who decided to use it as the basis for his own debut, "A Bout de Souffle" ("Breathless", 1960). Godard fleshed out Truffaut's treatment, expanding some of the scenes and significantly changing the ending. 

                                 The movie begins with a tall man standing in the shadows of Marseilles street reading a paper. Wearing a baggy, crumpled suit, with hat cocked and fag in mouth, Michel Poiccard seems almost American. Within seconds, he has stolen a car and is heading for Paris. En-route to the capital he discovers a handgun in the glove compartment. With his gangster outfit complete, he plays at being a hood, aiming the gun out of the car window. When two policemen appear in his rear view mirror, Michel veers of the road and no longer acts the role. He shoots one of the policemen dead then hotfoots it across the countryside. 

                                  Michel reaches Paris and hooks up with Patricia, an American student who sells copies of the New York Herald Tribune. Michel has come to Paris for two reasons: to reclaim some money from an acquaintance and to persuade Patricia to accompany him to Italy. Chain-smoking and determined to live dangerously, his time in the city slowly runs out, as the police catch up with him when he is betrayed by his girlfriend.

                                 Directed by Godard, with 'artistic and technical advice' from Claude Chabrol, "Breathless" is for many the quintessential New Wave film. Famously, Godard made corrections to the script right until the last minute, whispering the lines to the actors. For the tracking shots, he pushed the cameraman around Paris in a wheelchair, in order to save money on customary pieces of equipment. Actor and the protagonist of the movie, Belmondo became the New Wave's king of cool and enjoyed roles in both "A Woman is a Woman" and "Pierrot Goes Wild."


                                "Breathless" set the mold for the New Wave more than its precedents, not only in terms of its cast and crew, but also in its rebellious style and attitude and its visual and narrative virtuosity. The film captures the New Wave's revolt against traditional forms of cinematic storytelling. Godard refuses to play the game of traditional Hollywood cinema and this is shown right from the start, as he skips the traditional title sequence, opening instead with an extreme close-up. 

                                "Breathless" is as stylistically complex as its plot is simple. All the commonly perceived hallmarks of the New Wave cane be found here: cine-literacy and homage, young and sexy stars, visually arresting jump-cuts, loose hand-held camerawork, quirky humor, dialogue spoken direct to the camera and abrupt changes of pace and mood. 

                                As Truffaut had with "400 Blows", Godard shot the film on the streets he knew. In an 2005 interview he commented that, "One of the things that bothered us in the French tradition of quality films was the complete lack of interest in places, which were neither understood nor looked at. When I put Belmondo and Jean Seberg on the Champs-Elysses, it was because I walked up that avenue every day."

                             The film's relationship to the crime genre is an interesting one. Godard commented  in a interview that when he started out he intended "Breathless" to be realistic slice of film-noir, but when he was finished he thought it was more like "Alice in Wonderland." The truth lies somewhere in-between. Although we were constantly aware that Michel plays the role of a criminal, many of the scenes are nevertheless chilling. Like Michel, who performs his chicaneries with like-able smile, the film also has the power to charm. The thriller plot is left to simmer in a lengthy change-of-pace scene that takes up roughly one third of the film, Patricia and Michel potter around her apartment, play records, muse over the arts and contemplate philosophical theories of freedom.

                               Like Truffaut's first feature, "Breathless" was instantly revered upon its release. It was awarded the Prix Jean Vigo and the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival. The trendsetting nature of the picture ranged from cinema to fashion. Its hard to imagine the history of cinema without "Breathless." An irresistible and essential work, it repays any number of repeated viewings. 

Trailer


Godard's 1960 Interview


Breathless -- Wikipedia

Breathless -- Ebert's List of Great Movies

Soul Kitchen -- A Delicious Comedy


                                A Director is like a chef. He has to collaborate with various innovators to maintain his own unique vision. But, it is unfortunate that there are very few movies about kitchen or chefs. So, "Soul Kitchen" (2009) is a pleasant surprise. It is said to be the least ambitious project of German director Fatih Akin. His previous two movies -- "Head-On" (2004) and "The Edge of Heaven" (2007) -- are grim and philosophical movies. Whereas, this movie is a good-natured comedy. "Soul Kitchen" may be termed as the "least ambitious" but it is far more substantial than any of the other romantic comedies coming out of Hollywood.

                                 Soul Kitchen is the name of restaurant, located in the dirty suburb of Hamburg, Germany. The eatery's frequent visitors are working-class men, who like filling and greasy food such as burgers, fishcakes, and schnitzels. The owner of the restaurant is Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos, who also co-wrote the script with Akin), a laid-back Greek-German. His romantic endeavor with Nadine (Pheline Roggan), is bumped, when she takes a newspaper job in Shanghai. She wants Zinos to join her, but he loves the restaurant and the internet relationship is not going well. Things start to go from bad to worse, when Zinos hires a hot-headed chef, Shayn (Birol Unel), who insists on upgrading the Soul Kitchen menu.


                                 The junk-food loving clients rebels against the chef. Shayn enjoys saying people that "he's an artist, not a whore." The situation worsens, when Zinos' convicted brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) is released on parole. Illias asks for a job in the restaurant to stay away from jail and to continue his crime pursuits. Then there is also a cutthroat real estate tycoon, an overzealous health inspector and tax collector and an artsy waitress, (Anna Bederke), who falls in love with the brother. All these characters and situations make the perfect ingredients for a madcap comedy.

                                 Although the movie shows plenty of delicious-looking dishes, this isn't a foodie film. It mostly works as a portrait of certain Hamburg subculture -- its group of grungy artists -- where director Akin himself, is said to have, spent years working as a DJ and bartender. With "Soul Kitchen", the Turkish-German film-maker proves once again that he has a keen respect for the mysteries of human personality and an appreciation for flawed and oddball characters.Since music is a major interest for Akin, there is lots of funky great music, which actually energizes the viewing experience. The movie might be crammed with lots of incidents and characters, but Akin's comic energy carries the film.


                                  Adam Bousdoukos as Zinos gives a delightful performance. There is a playfulness to his character that enables him to handle all his troubles. Moritz Bleibtreu ("Run Lola Run", "Das Experiment") gives a funny and charismatic performance as the terribly weak brother. The hard-drinking, literate bar-maid is played alluringly by Anna Bederke.

                                "Soul Kitchen" isn't a great feast like Akin's earlier films. Those flicks carefully catered courses of philosophy, cultural conflict and melodrama. This one is more or less like a sweet snack. A movie with a big-hearted sense of fun and a a vitality that's difficult to resist.

Trailer


Soul Kitchen -- IMDb 

Paradesi --- Bala' s Elegiac Masterpiece


                               Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and many more renowned film-makers have tread into different genres, stories and themes, but their aim was always to capture human emotions (they were masters in doing it) in bleak and strikingly different situations. Film-maker Bala often dwells into that category (even though there were duds like "Avan Ivan"). He may not be that great a director like those cinematic masters, but with a movie like "Paradesi" (The Vagabond), he might climb to that legendary list in a  decade or two. Bala, always has a bewitching thirst for undiscovered turfs, where he could portray the pain inflicted upon inferior human beings by their superiors. So, this time the National Award winner has set the milieu around the pre-independence era in a tea plantation.

                            The movie is based upon Paul Harris Daniels' novel "Red Tea." The novel was also translated in  Malayalam and in Tamil under the title " Eriyum Panikadu."  The movie opens in 1939 in Salur village, near Sivagangai district. The camera takes a short detour through the village huts, as  the people are gearing up to celebrate a wedding. The protagonist Atharvaa plays the role of a town crier and goes around inviting the villagers and acquaints us to various characters of the jovial village. Drastic climate and the harsh famine presses the people of Salur village to migrate and work in a tea plantation around Munnar.



                           The people are actually conned by a man called "Kankani" (a pitiless middle-man), who promises them decent wages and livelihood. Atharvaa, in order to prove his mettle and to marry the village belle, Angamma (the whole village is against their marriage) decides to take the hellish trip. The villagers move like a large snake in dry lands for 48 days to arrive at the mist-covered perdition. The crux of the story stars from there, where the carefree villagers are forced into slavery (by a heartless group of people) with no traces of freedom or hope.

                             When it comes to the films of Bala, you don't see acting, you only see a transformation of an actor into a particular character. So, in that way "Paradesi" is a career defining role for Atharvaa. Like Vikram, Suriya and Arya, Atharva delivers a stellar performance and with his big expressive eyes, he certainly brings out all kinds of emotions. Vedhika as the village prankster has usual traits of a Bala's heroine and she is there to give some relief to the bleak proceedings. On the contrary, Dhansika as the abandoned woman in tea plantation, gives the most measured and subtle performance. All the other nefarious characters (Kankani, his British Boss and the missionaries) looks genuine and creates a lasting impression.



                            Cinematographer Chezhiyan provides the perfect framework for the director's vision. The opening shot, where the camera goes in a roundabout way is absolutely dazzling and the final shot, where the camera circles around the tea plantation from a top angle, resembles an elegy. The washed out hue looks perfect for that slice of time period. Nanjil Nadan's dialogues (like his best novels and short stories) lends wit as well as veracity to the time period. GV Prakash's music for the songs and BGM seamlessly blends with the movie. The songs may not be chart-busters, but the poignant lyrics from Vairamuthu, especially in Sengaade and Senneer Thaana, effectively expresses the anguish of the characters. The editing supports the flow of the movie without any manipulation. Production design is prodigious, which brings a stark realistic feel to the story.

                                Director Bala -- the man who inspired Anurag Kashyap to go back to his roots -- has once again delivered various personas with aplomb. Few days back, the Paradesi team released a teaser, (where Bala enacts a scene) which created a furore on social-networking sites. That might be just a publicity gimmick, but in the movie, Bala has lambasted and showcased all the wicked personalities (both the imperialistic rulers, Indian Supervisors and the missionaries). All these people have different masks, but their purpose are the same: to transform them into slaves. Bala's "Nanda" and Pithamagan" has the protagonist-antagonist angle to its story. It served as a plot point to give a revenge-seeking drama. But, in "Paradesi", the triumph of good over bad is cleverly neglected. The usual climax, where the hero bashes all the villains, might endure as an  insult to all those poor humans. Apart from few minor glitches (like the repeated cries and some songs), there is no huge flaw in the movie.

                                  "Paradesi" can also be taken as an parable to the plight of farmers and villagers in today's India. All those lost souls remain as an warning sign that we shouldn't once again impart ourselves in the hands of corporate greed -- (the mutant form of imperialism). "Paradesi" may not be the escapist entertainment, but it is worth watching for Bala's bold and unique vision.

Trailer


Anurag Kashyap talks about Bala


Monsters -- Imaginative Indie Sci-fi


                           The total production cost for Gareth Edwards feature debut "Monsters" (2010) was said to be around, $20,000. For a movie that involves a bunch of giant aliens that is very cheap. With a gritty, handheld, verity style, the movie makes a a devastating emotional impact -- provided, if you happen to register the little details. The financial difficulties is overwhelmed by making this more of a road trip/character story than a traditional monster movie. So, don't look for big scale alien action sequences. It is more or less, a sci-fi allegory with with human-level drama that just happens to take place in the shadow of giant beasts.

                            "Monsters" opens with a loud night-vision firefight between a jeep full of enthusiastic soldiers and a gigantic extraterrestrial beast. The story is set in 2015, and thanks to NASA space probe, which has crashed, leaving part of Mexico “infected” with rapidly-breeding, hostile alien life.These aliens looks like a giant octopus -- walks on their tentacles— and have been quarantined from the United States by a massive border fence. Amidst this chaos lives photojournalist Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), an American  documenting the post-invasion ruins. He gets an unwanted assignment from headquarters: to escort his  boss' daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), back to safety.

                             Kaulder is the absentee dad and Sam has run off from the bad engagement. There begins a distressing journey — with a tentative romance -- and little by little we find ourselves in the midst of a war-zone relationship drama. The trip also subtly provides commentary on the collateral damage of militaristic imperialism, exploitative media and immigration-themed xenophobia. 

                              Director Gareth Edwards is a CGI artist and so he has created a dystopian landscape that’s so naturalistic. The aliens are mostly kept aside, but when they do get on the screen, it's a breathtakingly lyrical moment rather than a cliched awe of roaring creatures and exploding artillery. The film was shot on locations ranging from Guatemala to Costa Rica and uses largely improvised dialogue with mostly nonprofessional actors. The dialogues are mostly unforced and seems naturalistic. Edwards's take on the alien-invasion is better than a monster-movie with the backing of a big studio. Here, the suspense exists in the way, the narrative unfolds rather than cheap pyrotechnics and eye-popping visual effects. Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able have underplayed their parts masterfully and we are invested in their survival.

                          "Monsters" is "Before Sunrise" meets "Cloverfield." It is also a little remindful of "District 9", which had a sense of humor about it, but this movie, in the end, is just bleak business. Edwards deserved his acclaim (in the indie circle) for creating this professional-looking film with consumer-grade video equipment and a four-person crew. On the whole, "Monsters" effortlessly compels and is a trip worth taking. 

Trailer


Monsters -- IMDb

A Brief History of French New Wave Cinema


                               Black-and-white figures in Parisian cafes, lots of cigarette smokes, charming leading man and beautiful women. The young Jean Pierre Leaud running through the streets of Paris with a stolen typewriter in Truffaut's "400 Blows." Anna Karina and Jean Claude Brialy brushing off their feet before going to sleep in Godard's "A Woman is a Woman." Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre cycling though the countryside in "Jules and Jim." These are some of the themes and excellent images of New Wave era of the French cinema. The list, actually, is endless.

                               These images are some of the things that, I think, represents "New Wave Cinema." Yet, critics, all over the world, continue to argue over its precise meaning. Some confine New Wave to a certain period of time, others to a work of particular directors. Among the directors believed at one time or another to be related to the movement are: Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Charbol, Jacques Rivette, Jacques Demy, Eric Rohmer, Alan Resnais, Louis Malle, Roger Vadim, Jean Eustache and Agnes Varda.

The Birth of French New Wave 
                           
                              It is worth remembering that most of principal New Wave directors started their cinematic career as critics. Many continued to write criticism while filming their own works, seeing themselves as both critic and film-maker. They also essentially redesigned the role of the film critic, recognizing the medium as on a par with the other arts and giving detailed analysis to directors who had never before been treated with much respect. The birth of this new form of criticism -- and of the New Wave itself -- owes much to two men: Henri Langlois and Andre Bazin.

Godard and Truffaut
                            At the end of the 1940s there was said to be, a large number of cinema clubs, where young intellectuals could view home-grown and foreign films, then discuss them to their heart's content with like minded people. One of the best was of Henri Langlois' "Cinematheque Francaise."  The Cinematheque was a place for learning, not just watching. The theater was a small one, but Langlois had achieved a wide range of films from around the world to screen to his eager audiences. Many of the films shown at that time were American. This meant that, between 1946 and 1948, the young French critics were given a crash course in roughly ten years of American cinema, including masterpieces by the likes of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.

                               It was at the Cinematheque that the principal film-makers in the New Wave originally met. One of the key figures, Francois Truffaut, already had an especially intense and involved relationship with the cinema. He had turned to films at an early age, finding them a kind of refuge from his unhappy home life with his mother and stepfather. The cinema managed to give his life some sort of focus. Godard had a similar passionate relationship with movies. He was born in Paris, spent his childhood on Switzerland and then returned to Paris and found himself studying cinema in a far more intensive fashion at the Cinematheque. At one point, Godard alone was said to be watching around 1,000 films a year. But the life of the cinephile involved more than just viewing the films. Stills and posters were collected, credits were studied and lists were compiled of favorites from different countries.

 
Cahiers du Cinema and Other Influences
                         
                            Godard was intent on setting up a film journal that he could write for. He did so with Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, a former literature teacher. The most important film journal, at that time, was Cahiers du Cinema, which featured reviews and general discussions on cinema theory. The journal was founded in 1950 by Andre Bazin. The first issue was published on 1951. Rohmer, Godard and Rivette joined the journal in 1952. They praised the French directors of an earlier era, such as the great social commentator Jean Renoir (La Grande Illusion, The Rules of the Game) and the poetic realist Jean Vigo (L'Atlante), alongside contemporaries who had successfully made films outside of the studio system, such as Jean-Pierre Melville.

                          Fritz Lang's early German works (M, Metropolis) and his American movies inspired the New Wave critics. A number of distinctive American directors were extremely influential. The critics were never hierarchical when it came to praising film-makers and gave American B-movie directors such as Sam Fuller ("Shock Corridor") and Jacques Tourneur ("Cat People", 1942) a level of respect many found hard to understand at that time. These days, critical studies of Hitchcock may dominate the film section of a bookshop, but Rohmer and Charbol has written a book on Hitchcock in the 1950's.

                        Another influence on New Wave Cinema was Italy's neorealism movement. Directors like Roberto Rossellini ("Rome, Open City") and Vittorio De Sica ("Bicycle Thieves") showed that it was possible to make dramatic and incredibly moving films outside the studio, working on location and using non-professionals who often improvised their lines. The neorealists showed the financial advantages of such a style of film-making, as well as the liberating creative advantages.

                           Not content with watching and writing about films, the Cahiers critics wanted to get to grips with the film industry from a variety of angels. Charbol worked as a publicist at 20th Century Fox, where Godard worked for the same studio as a press agent. Some were lucky enough to learn their craft alongside their cinematic idols. Truffaut worked with Roberto Rossellini and Rivette worked with Jean Renoir. Louis Malle collaborated with Jacques Tati and Robert Bresson.

  Invigorated Young Film-makers 
                  
                        This collection of circumstances signaled record numbers of first time film-makers in France. It was said that, over 15 directors released their first films in 1959 and this number doubled the following year. These figures were considered extraordinary at that time. In the 1950s, most directors made their debut at around the age of 40, after serving a lengthy apprenticeship. Remarkably, not only were these youngsters making their own films, many did extremely well at the box-office. Financial backing was sometime hard to find for these first cinematic ventures and each of the young directors had to devise new ways to gain funding.

                        Film-making was suddenly a fresh and youthful force, as new pictures were made by, for and starring young people. Many New Wave films spoke to young audiences about their lives. They were shot in the present day and applicable to modern issues, unlike the outdated costume dramas. The playfulness, rebelliousness and inventiveness of the first New Wave films reveal the tender age of their directors. The phrase 'new wave' was bandied about to represent a whole generation as well as film-making movement.

  What is it Exactly? 
                      
                          Still there might that be question: How can we exactly define the term "New Wave Cinema"? I don't know the exact definition, but, I will try to infuse some meaning. New Wave films are like reading a novel or short story, where the whole plot is very simple or sometimes dumb but it's very well written. So, for most of the New Wave directors the manner in which the movie's story was told became more important than the story itself. The directors broke with traditional narrative conventions, favoring arresting and stylish techniques such as the jump-cut (a cut that literally jumps from one point in time to another). The directors displayed a pick 'n' mix approach to film-making, audaciously whisking together their films' modern elements with classic silent techniques such as inter-titles (often used by Godard).

Jump Cut in "Breathless" (1960)
                         
                       The New Wave directors were, like all film-makers and like many of the characters in their own movies, primarily interested in telling stories. The principal directors of the movement were critics, to whom expression through words was as important as expression on screen. Eric Rohmer has worked on newspaper and has published a novel before he became interested in films. Alain Resnais was a literature teacher. Claude Charbol had detective stories published before he became a director.

                         The scripts were often written by director themselves, but a startling number were adaptions of novels, ranging from pulp American thrillers to French romances. The diversity of the directors' source material can be seen in a list of the authors whose work they adapted: Henry Miller, Gustave Flaubert, Ray Bradbury, Woolrich and Lionel White.

 
Influences of French New Wave 
                    
                            The French New Wave has had an immeasurable influence on American film-making. John Cassavetes ("A Woman Under Influence"), a director who also relied on financial assistance from friends to see his projects through to the big screen. With its natural performances, handheld camerawork and liberal use of locations Cassavetes' innovative debut "Shadows" bears remarkable similarities to the works of Godard. The New Wave has also echoed through to the digital revolution and the Dogme95 manifesto, reverberating in the work of a new generation of independents from Scandinavia, such as Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Just as technological advances in the 1950s changed the way that young directors mde films, developments in the digital video have influenced the work of today's film-makers.

                            Stylistically, the modern American director most often linked to the New Wave is Quentin Tarantino, who named his own production company "A Band Apart" after Godard's "Bande a Part" and used part of the film as the basis for the dance scene in "Pulp Fiction." Like Steven Soderbergh ("Out of Sight", "Traffic"), Tarantino shares the New Wave's love for unconventional narrative structure, as well as its tendency towards cinematic self-consciousness. The characters in Tarantino's films spend almost as much time watching movies as those in Godard and Truffaut's.

Octogenarian Auteurs 

                           Truffaut and Malle may be gone but several of the movement's key directors remain bracingly prolific. Chabrol turned in his 50th film in 1997 and directed his last movie "Bellamy" in 2009. Godard (83) and Alain Resnais (91) are still actively directing movies and their movies, Goodbye to Language and Love, Drink and Sing, are in the pre-production stage, to be later released this year. Jacques Rivette (85), although retired from directing movies screened his last film "Around A Small Mountain" at the NY film festival in 2010. Such typically probing, provocative works show that the directors are still far from becoming French cinema's old guard.             



Editing in New Wave Cinema






Directors of the French New Wave 

Sleep Tight -- Unnerving Psychological Thriller


                              Evil lurking in plain sight is always one of the themes of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. Spanish director Jaume Balaguero's "Sleep Tight" (Mientras duermes, 2011) takes that theme and transforms into a highly effective psychological thriller, where even the most hardened viewers will find its after-effects hard to brush off. This movie deftly plays one of the worst fears for any apartment dwellers.

                              The movie starts on Monday, with Caesar (Luis Tosar)-- an unhappy caretaker of upscale Barcelona apartment building. He wakes up next to Clara (Marta Etura) and then sets out the day's newspapers, sorting mail, opening the elevator door for tenants, and offers to feed Sra -- a dog of the rich tenant Veronica. Well, how could a apartment caretaker wake up next to Clara, when she already has a boyfriend named Marcos (Alberto San Juan)? The secret to that is 'Chloroform.'  Caesar lurks every night  patiently under Clara’s bed to chloroform her before infesting her cupboards with roaches, poisoning her body lotion and finally curling up next to her in bed. 


                               Caesar is a miserable psychopath. The only he can find happiness is by finding imaginative ways to inflict fear, anxiety and pain on others. He has always been a voyeur and now his object of fascination is Clara. Her platonic friendliness to Caesar makes him to label as insincere enough to deserve a special punishment. The punishment which started from the infatuation of Clara soon turns into an obsession. Soon, Clara’s blitheness is successfully scampered and she’s headed for a breakdown. Marcos is frequently out of town and in one occasion, when he confronts Caesar in their apartment, Marcos begins to have some doubt. Caesar is only haunted by child, who spies on him, then later blackmails him into bringing her adult porno films. What happens in the end to Clara will definitely be spine-tingling experience. 

                               Luis Tosar most often plays the off-beat or off-color characters ("Cell 211", "Even the Rain"). As Caesar he subtly as well as boldly articulates the movie's suspense. The sweating brows, panicked eyes, clever explanations and sly movements are all incredibly convincing and at times, we even end up rooting for him not to get caught. As Clara, Marta Etura is equally good and has a strong presence like the monstrous protagonist. The only idea I felt trite is blame-the-mom psychoanalysis. Like a Norman Bates kind of psycho, Caesar sits close to his paralyzed mother and utters “We’ll wipe that smile off her face.” 


                            Balaguero's direction is at a steady tempo, on key and in tune with Tosar's performance. He matches the shock-inducing Alberto Marini’s goosebumps screenplay (adapted from his own novel) with a pernicious tense atmosphere. Balaguero was the co-director of REC but makes a sounder psychological horror movie with "Sleep Tight" than those nocturnal webcam horror franchise. In short, his direction can be called as the well-executed bit of escalating craziness.

                             "Sleep Tight" moves with a slow-burning intensity and is infused with uneasy, hard to digest twists. This Spanish chiller is worth seeking out for its acting and for its twisted humor.

Trailer


Sleep Tight - IMDb

Francois Truffaut's "400 Blows" -- An Analysis


                                Truffaut's movies are like a life-long diary and his first feature is one from the heart, notable for its highly autobiographical nature. It was no secret that the protagonist character of Antoine Doinel, as played in total of five films by Jean-Pierre Leaud, grew from Truffaut's own childhood. Leaud and Doinel became cinematic alter-egos for the director.

                               "400 Blows" (Les Quatre Cents Coups) tells the story of Antoine Doinel, who studies at a grim boys' school and lives in a cramped apartment with his irritable mother and more genial stepfather. He spends the nights on the floor in a sleeping bag, kept awake by their arguments. The morning after a typically horrific day at school, Antoine and his friend Rene bunk off to go to the cinema and the funfair. Their day is spoilt when Antoine spies his mother embracing a stranger. This betrayal is sure in his head the next day when, in need of an excuse for his absence, he tells his teacher his mother is dead.

                               The news ricochets to Antoine's parents and Antoine leaves home but, after an unhappy night spent in an old printing works, he returns to his family. The family then enjoys a momentarily idyllic period, during which time they go to the cinema, but then Antoine and Rene try to get some quick cash by stealing a typewriter from Antoine's stepfather's office. Antoine is caught, charged and placed in an observation center for juvenile delinquents. But it will take more than this to keep the irrepressible kid down.



                              From the lyrical opening shots of the Eiffel Tower to the famous enigmatic freeze frame with which it ends, the film sports inspired direction from Truffaut. "400 Blows" was said to be shot on the same streets where Truffaut had grown up and there's a strong sense of his instinctive feel for the locations. Several of the scenes in the Doinel films were inspired directly by events in Truffaut's own life. It's said that, like Antoine, Truffaut was forced to sleep in the corridor of his family's cramped apartment. He also ran way from home on more than one occasion and was also placed in an observation center for delinquents.

                            Truffaut's best friend was Robert Lachenay. He was the inspiration for the character of Rene, Antoine's partner in crime, played in the movie by Patrick Auffay. The conspiratorial relationship between Rene and Antoine is especially convincing. The pair share a touching alliance, represent best by the moving scene in which Rene attempts to visit his friend in the institution. Truffaut handles another crop of badly behaved 'mischief makers' and he also sterling work from Albert Remy and Claire Maurier, as Antoine's parents, and Guy Decomble as the stern professor. All three veer between displays of animosity and affection for Antoine.



                             At the heart of the film is a towering lead performance from the young Leaud, who brings a high level of humanity to Antoine's sullen swagger. One moment impenetrable and indifferent, the next helpless, Leaud gives an impressively complex turn as a boy who seems more than his years. He drives the film, appearing in virtually every scene. His performers evokes the full range of childhood emotions, from overwhelming youthful passions to disillusionment with one's lot in life.

                           "400 Blows" is a celebration of the giddy liberty of youth, represented by the film's freewheeling opening, Antoine and Rene's sprints through the streets and in particular Antoine's spin on a fairground ride. However, the film also reinforces the crushing confines of childhood, represented by the family's claustrophobic apartment and the school's barren classroom, both of which anticipate the cell Antoine ends up in. The manner of Antoine's education itself comes under attack, damned as a dreary series of recitations and dictations.

                           This invigorating film immediately established Truffaut as the French New Wave's most commercially successful director. It was awarded the Director's prize at Cannes, received an Oscar nomination for its script and signaled Truffaut's arrival on the international scene. Akira Kurosawa championed the picture as "one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen", and Jacques Rivette described it as 'a triumph of simplicity.' Both perspective and poignant, "400 Blows" (1959) still feels impressively fresh and the timeless nature of its story means audiences of all ages and generations can empathize with it. 

Trailer


 Jean Pierre Leaud's audition for "400 Blows"


400 Blows - IMDb

400 Blows -- Roger Ebert's List of Great Movies

Stand Up Guys -- Redeemed by Legendary Performers


                         We watch movies because we think it will be entertaining or thought-provoking or challenging. It either should fascinate you or affect you at a profound level. Sometimes, the reason to watch a movie is to observe a particular combination of actors hanging out. That's the only great pleasure to get from "Stand Up Guys" (2012), a film which brings talented trio of veteran actors -- Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. It is a gangland comedy with a class-reunion feel. The spontaneity of all the actors delivers a delight, even though the script imparts us with a sinking feeling. 

                         Valentine or Val (Al Pacino) is just getting released on a parole after 28 years. He has accidentally killed his mob boss' son in a robbery and shootout, even though he has never squealed on his accomplices (a real stand up guy). Doc (Walken) is waiting for his friend, Val at the gate. Doc is a complicated, curt hit man. He paints beautiful pictures, lives in a tiny apartment and dines at the same place, ordering same food from the same waitress. Once Val is out, Doc immediately attends to his needs, which even includes an eventful visit to whore house. 

                          Doc also has a deadline of 24 hours to kill Val (the strict orders from mob boss). Val knows this and often asks how much time he has got. Val's got a short time to live, so in that time they wander the streets by night—stealing a luxury car for a joyride, busting their old wheel man Hirsch (Arkin) out of a nursing home, and getting their drink on. In the end, it becomes a question of how and when Doc will shoot his best friend. Or is Doc, a courageous stand up guy to sacrifice his own life and refuse?

                          Pacino, most often gives away subtlety and goes for a bombastic performance. Most of the times that ends up being annoying but here he's fun to watch. He might have played this role a lot of times in his career, but it’s still nice to know that getting older has not decreased his appetite for acting. Pacino grinding up Walken's medication and snorting it up like the Tony Montana of Scarface is one of the funniest moment. The graceful Walken as Doc is oddly touching and has surprisingly tender moments. Alan Arkin plays to perfection, the annoyed unhappy man, who realizes that he didn’t quite get what he wanted out of life.

                           Director Fisher Stevens hasn't done much with actors the caliber of Pacino and Walken. He has just turned on the camera and turned them loose. Funniest moments are also equaled with dumb episodes, which are designed to allow the old men to bond with younger women. Noah Haidle's script is nothing groundbreaking. The script has the usual dishonorable younger thugs, cop chases and mandatory Viagra jokes. 

                           The legendary actors deserved a better material, yet it’s so nice to have them onscreen together. Don't pay much attention to the script or story, just watch these actors, playing longtime friends and in the end, you might care for a seat at the diner table with them. 

Trailer


Stand Up Guys - IMDb 

Made in Dagenham - An Entertaining Slice of Social History


                             Movies about woman-powered, working-class triumph makes up for a terrific thought-provoking entertainment, especially because of its underdog theme and righteous monologues. In that way we had "Norma Rae", "Silkwood", Erin Brokovich" and Nigel Cole's "Made in Dagenham." (2010) Dagenham refers to a small working class city in England. Many of the men in the city work in Ford Motor Company plants. They are put up in a new, clean facility, whereas the few women who sew car seats must contend with sweatshop conditions. This movie is a crowd-pleaser about female workers who campaigned for equal pay with men at a Ford Motor factory in Dagenham, 1968. 

                               Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) is married, a mom of two kids and works as a sewing machinist at Ford's campus. She sews seats in a sleazy cavernous room that is too hot and with a leaky roof. The women's union representative Albert (Bob Hoskins) wants to make things better for them. Connie (Geraldine James), one of the co-worker and a shop steward, also believes that change can be achieved. In one of the meetings with the management, Albert and the plant's union chief, Monty (Kenneth Cranham) takes Rita to discuss various concessions for woman (only in the vaguest terms). 


                             She was taken to simply nod in agreement to whatever takes place. But Rita is not kind of woman who could be sorted out. She takes out upholstery samples from her purse the gents to go ahead and sew up the pieces into a proper car seat. The big wigs are baffled. She announces a one-day strike, which eventually turns into a long-term strike that shuts down the plant – very much to the annoyance of the men (Rita's husband works in Ford). They demand equal pay and part of their protest is because of classification of women as "unskilled workers" in order to keep their wages low. Soon, Ford sends an American representative to bring down the strike and cause panic.

                           Although the movie is based upon real incident, the protagonist Rita is a composite of several real-life people. You can see many of the real women strikers (now in their 70s), briefly interviewed under the closing credits. Director Nigel Cole has managed to keep things relatively light-hearted without ever losing sight of the serious issues involved. He brilliantly imparts the camaraderie of the women, who sense that the tide of change is on their side despite their years of subservience to men at home. 


                          The screenplay by William Ivory has all the usual plot devices (monologues, conflicts, villainous corporate guys) but also injects real warmth into each of the scenes. The dialogues are mostly kept down-to-earth. The management meeting is one of the key scene. In that, the old union-man, Monty says to Industrial-relations Head, Hopkins (Rupert Graves) that slow change is fine, because who really knows what’s in these women’s heads? -- while, Rita, who was commanded to keep quiet, slowly utters the word “Bollocks!” From there, the movie is a reckless ride.

                      The cast for "Made in Dagenham" is perfect. Sally Hawkins emits a mix of vulnerability and thumping optimism as Rita. She conveys or mostly lives the emotional subtleties of Rita's courage, guilt, perseverance and resilience. Rosamund Pike as the Oxford-educated Lisa, who just happens to be married to Hopkins, is equally good and brings out the feeling of what it's like to be underestimated and unappreciated by men.

                      Made In Dagenham depicts an interesting bit of history with pluck and charm. Everything about the film is predictable but thanks to a wonderful female cast, it is entertaining as well as heartfelt.

Trailer


Made in Dagenham -- IMDb