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Aditya Gokhale
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Martin Scorsese's "Silence" (2016) ★★★★½:

Set in the 17th century, "Silence" tells the story of Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to propagate the Christian faith, and also to find out what happened to their mentor Father Ferreira who vanished years ago, amid mass persecution of the followers of Christianity in Japan, where the religion is officially outlawed.

The mission proves to be an ultimate test of faith for Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as he struggles to find hope in a scenario where believers continue to live in fear, and the unfortunate ones face torture and death, for their refusal to renounce Christianity. Along his journey, Rodrigues occasionally questions God's unbearable "silence" in the face of rampant atrocity.

Having seen and loved the 1971 Masahiro Shinoda adaptation of the Shûsaku Endô novel, I couldn't help but go into comparison mode whilst viewing and reviewing Martin Scorsese's version.

The Shinoda version is definitely superior in every way, but Scorsese is not too far behind, and certainly packs a searing punch with some of his own expert touches that are unique to his version of the film.

While Shinoda tells the same story in a more concise, to the point fashion, Scorsese goes for a more sprawling, epic scope, and comes up with a superb product in its own right, but falls short of matching up to the brilliance of the 1971 masterpiece.

My full review:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2017/05/silence-2016.html

#Silence #MartinScorsese #AndrewGarfield
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Roy Ward Baker's "A Night to Remember" (1958) ★★★★½

Forget James Cameron's "Titanic" (1997), that mawkish melodrama, most remembered for the Jack-Rose steamy romance, rather than the colossal tragedy that was supposed to be the ultimate takeaway. Roy Ward Baker's "A Night to Remember" (1958), based on Walter Lord's book of the same name, did a much better job. No needless romanticism, no emotional manipulation, no fictional characters; just fully focused, straight-out chronicling of the final hours of the unsinkable ship, with a number of tiny episodes revolving around tiny characters that linger in your memory long after the final frame.

Baker and team have given us a controlled, thoroughly restrained and what is perhaps the best celluloid depiction of one of the deadliest disasters humankind has ever seen. Wish Cameron had taken a lesson or two about directing from this film, instead of shamelessly replicating some scenes and lines in his bloated blockbuster.

My full review at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2017/04/a-night-to-remember-1958_11.html

#Titanic #RMSTitanic #ANighttoRemember #KennethMore #WalterLord #RoyWardBaker
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It is the week of the theatrical release of Martin Scorsese's "Silence", and the time is ripe to explore and write about the original:

MASAHIRO SHINODA'S "SILENCE" (1971):

"In this world, neither God, nor Buddha exists; there's nothing at all anymore".

God's silence is questioned yet again in Japanese filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda's harrowing masterpiece, "Silence" aka "Chinmoku" (1971). We have seen similar themes of the crisis of faith examined in classics such as Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light" (1963) and Luis Bunuel's "Nazarin" (1959). But despite familiar subject matter, Shinoda's film, based on Shûsaku Endô's novel stands out in its own right, given its setting and focus on some very convincing and relevant religious debate.

It is 17th century Japan. The practice of Christianity in banned, and all practitioners, preachers or believers of the faith are being pulled up by the powers that be, and persecuted by means of brutal torture to set an example of what might happen to those who continue to believe. As clergymen from Europe continue on their mission to preach their religion, Japan stands in strong opposition denying Christianity, claiming that they do not need it as they have their own religion! In such a scenario, Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe arrive in Japan to try and preach the Christian faith and also locate the whereabouts of Father Ferreira who vanished without a trace after preaching for over a decade in Japan.

Shinoda's film is a dark, brooding tale that presents a convincing and frightening picture of religion becoming an existential necessity. It depicts a time of shockingly excessive dependence on religion and how its teachings enslave its followers. Be it a preacher or a believer, they all want to embrace the church and follow the word of God. Believers who want to believe in Christ aren't allowed to, but they see no other way, for abandoning their God would mean eternal damnation. Defending their faith is the only way to God, the gateway to paradise, and eventually the only aspect that gives their life some meaning, a reason to live.

But deep within, each one is struggling with their faith, and constantly attempting to resolve an inner conflict. How far can one go to defend their religion? Where does religion end and humanity begin? Can both coexist? These are some pertinent questions raised in "Silence" and the answers are provided eventually as this distressing tale unfolds, leaving the viewer emotionally drained.

My full review/analysis at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2017/02/silence-chinmoku-1971.html

#MasahiroShinoda #JapaneseCinema #Silence
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Satyajit Ray's "Charulata" (1964) ★★★★

The striking opening sequence, all of the first almost ten minutes, captures the entire universe of the eponymous Charulata with an effortless grace. The depiction of desolation and ennui, usually more associated with Antonioni, is portrayed with a lucidity and perfection that is rare.

Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) glides through her palatial mansion, its set design meticulously constructed to reflect the era in which the story is set. Its vast emptiness mirrors Charu's lonesome existence, while her newspaper owner husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee) continues to be preoccupied with his work, which he is also quite passionate about, even comparing it to Charu, stating it to be her 'Souten' or a second wife (translated as 'rival' in the Criterion English subs!).

A lover of literature and poetry, a big fan of Bankim Chandra Chaterjee and perhaps a hidden literary genius herself, we see Charu biding her time roaming about, browsing through books, humming songs and sewing. But more importantly, she also kills her boredom by taking a curious look at the outside world through the half covered windows with a gaze that often switches between contemplative and childlike. The latter quality is more evident in the way she moves from window to window, simply to catch a glimpse of a portly man with an umbrella passing by, her opera glasses always acting as her lens to observe a world that seems distant or inaccessible to her.

In a not-so-subtle manner, Ray shows how Charu feels at a distance even from her husband who fails to notice her as he walks past, following which she fixates the opera glasses on him, watching him walk out of the frame.

The dark void of Charu’s existence sees some light with the arrival of Amal, Bhupati’s younger cousin, who is introduced with an overtly symbolic entry of a storm (a literal storm brings in an emotional storm to come!). Amal is a young, vibrant chap, quite passionate about literature and poetry. Charu is gradually swept away by his charm and a common interest. She feels liberated, merely in experiencing this attraction!

Lilting music, great cinematography, great writing, carefully executed mise en scène and an extraordinarily splendid performance by Madhabi Mukherjee make the film.

My detailed review/analysis at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/07/charulata-1964.html


#Charulata #SatyajitRay  
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Zoltán Fábri’s "The Fifth Seal" (1976) ★★★★★

Ever heard one of those ‘X walks into a bar’ jokes? Hungarian filmmaker Zoltán Fábri’s “The Fifth Seal” (1976) certainly reminded of one, for it begins with such a premise. However, the film and the subject it tackles are hardly a laughing matter, despite an occasional garnishing of some wry humour, sometimes extending to full blown hilarity. Fábri’s film exposes an inherently disturbing truth about all of us by throwing a variant of a “What would you do?” type of question, one that will have you struggling for an answer, much like the baffled characters in this powerful film.

In a war-torn environment in 1940s Hungary, an unnamed fascist regime is gradually taking control of the country. Five men of different occupations sit across a table in a local bar, drinking and conversing about several things. Despite the violent atmosphere outside, the men try to make merry and have a good time but a lot of their conversation, not surprisingly, revolves around the tense state of affairs and the shape of things to come. Interesting discussions follow, focusing on the very foundations of war and dictatorship, stemming from differing ideologies and from an individual point of view.

In such a scenario, one of the men, Gyuricza Miklós (Lajos Öze), asks a hypothetical question, strictly from an individual perspective, that shatters everyone’s composure, rattles their ethical beliefs, and puts them in a tough spot. The answer is seemingly simple, but they slowly realize, that like life itself, there are no easy answers to everything.

“The Fifth Seal” plays out like a claustrophobic chamber piece, with the action mostly confined to the dimly lit bar, barring a couple of very important sequences during which it shifts elsewhere. The exchange between the characters is extremely thought-provoking, compelling the viewer to look at life from diverse lenses. Pertinent questions regarding morality and conscience are raised and weighed against pragmatism and the need to survive, maybe not for the self, but for some others who they may be responsible for.

With unanticipated twists and turns in the narrative, viewer expectation and the ability to judge is constantly toyed with, and the distinction between right and wrong is further blurred, almost obliterating the absolute nature of it, and providing a very convincing angle of subjective morality.

“The Fifth Seal” is a well-acted, expertly directed masterpiece of Hungarian cinema, a fascinating film that hits hard and leaves us with plenty to think about.

My detailed review/analysis at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/06/the-fifth-seal-1976_64.html
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"Maybe there are no demons. It's only a lack of angels."

France, in the 17th century, witnessed one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by humankind. A popular and openly libertine priest, Father Urbain Grandier of Loudun, known for his philandering ways, was accused of witchcraft and 'commerce with the Devil'. A group of Ursuline nuns, led by the Mother Superior, Jeanne of the Angels, claimed to have been possessed by demons, owing to being seduced and corrupted by Grandier, who was ultimately convicted, tortured and burned alive at the stake. Legend has it that the whole incident was purportedly an organized witch-hunt, to oust the unorthodox priest, with Mother Jeanne's personal grudge against Grandier and an irrefutable evidence of 'possession', providing a strong advantage.

This story has been the subject of various literary works and plays, also adapted by English filmmaker Ken Russell in his controversial masterpiece, "The Devils" (1971). Polish filmmaker Jerzy Kawalerowicz's "Mother Joan Of The Angels" (1961), although released ten years earlier, is somewhat of a quasi-sequel to Russell's film. Albeit with character names slightly altered, Kawalerowicz's film is loosely based on events following Grandier's execution.

The nuns at the notorious convent are still supposedly under the influence of the demons, exhibiting hysterical traits, and spitting blasphemous ramblings. With exorcisms already in progress, although with little success, another priest, a specialist, Father Józef Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit) is called upon to take up the challenging task. Following interactions with the curious local folk, including patrons of a nearby inn, the nuns, and more importantly, a startling face-off with Mother Joan (Lucyna Winnicka), Father Suryn finds himself grappling with his own faith, conflicted by the questionable veracity of Mother Joan's claims, and tormented by his own undeniable attraction to Mother Joan.

Despite directly following the events in Russell's film, "Mother Joan Of The Angels" is a far subtler version in contrast to "The Devils". While the brazen, scandalous depiction of the madness and hysteria of Russell's film is missing here, Kawalerowicz's fairly restrained approach renders a darker and more meditative tone to the proceedings, and what results is a film with a distinctively bleak, tense atmosphere, and aptly so. It is akin to an eerie calm following a deadly storm, with its desolate surroundings and the burnt remains of a carnage serving as horrific reminders of a black chapter in the history of the town; its baffled inhabitants haunted by the ghosts of a terrible episode, still questioning the truth about what really happened.

Without being too unabashed about it, Kawalerowicz manages to shrewdly attack and expose the hypocrisy of organized religion with masterful writing of scenes, comprising of philosophical musings, riveting confrontations and intelligently composed, symbolically heavy imagery. Meticulously in control, and not swaying towards preachiness, Kawalerowicz offers plenty to chew on about the tenets of orthodox religious practices.

My detailed review/analysis "Mother Joan Of The Angels" (1961) at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/06/mother-joan-of-angels-1961.html

#Polishcinema #LoudunPossessions #MotherJoanoftheAngels
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"In the beginning, was the darkness….and then there was light!"

For Voula (Tania Palaiologou), a girl approaching her teens and her little brother Alexandros (Michalis Zeke), about half her age, this profound snippet from the Genesis that she calls a bed-time story, serves as the ultimate mantra of hope and optimism, as the siblings embark on their rather unreasonable and perilous cross-country journey to reach their father! All they know from their mother (who we never seen on screen) is that he resides somewhere in Germany.

The naive children give little thought to it and decide to catch a train to Germany, never once suspecting that their mother, embarrassed from their constant questioning might just have fabricated the whole father story to withhold their illegitimacy from them. However, they believe that eventually there will be light, and the prospect of finding their father becomes a reason to carry out the journey, a reason to go on; a reason to break out of their comfort zone and step out into a world unknown.

Greek master Theodoros Angelopoulos' "Landscape In The Mist" (1988) may be described on some sites as a 'road movie' centering around two children, but it would be a sin to reduce something so phenomenal, to something so concise and limited. Angelopoulos' film is a cinematic masterpiece that is beyond classification.

Even though it primarily chronicles the journey, as seen through the eyes of these children, "Landscape in the Mist" transcends from the literal to the lyrical in showcasing a journey that is not only physical but also spiritual. For the kids, it is an odyssey that, apart from covering physical distances, also traverses emotional heights, serving as an extraordinary rite of passage, a coming of age.

While the rather risky expedition the kids undertake provides the narrative edge to keep the viewer hooked, Angelopoulos packs in a lot of thematic material to ponder on along the way. "Landscape in the Mist" talks of a quest that is universal to all of mankind; a long, unpredictable voyage into the unknown, or a seemingly never-ending existential struggle to attain a far-reaching, unattainable goal. Fate, destiny, and a sense of purpose to life are predominant themes of the film.

My detailed analysis/review at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/03/landscape-in-mist-1988.html

#TheodorosAngelopoulos #Greece #GreekCinema #Landscapeinthemist
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Pierre Étaix, in collaboration with Jean-Claude Carrière, presents in the so-called 'An Entertainment in Four Acts', an uproariously funny worldview of the modern society. Although made in the 60s, "As Long As You've Got Your Health" (1966), an anthology of four comic shorts, is as relevant today, as the time it was conceived.

All four shorts are loosely related in the way they serve as a biting commentary on the excesses of modernization, consumerism, urbanization and its associated effects on human life, albeit exaggerated to absurd proportions for comedic effect.

Lost for many years along with other Étaix films, the restored version of "As Long as You've Got Your Health" is technically well-accomplished, and meticulously structured. Pierre Étaix's comic timing is impeccable and the visual gags are mostly great and well executed, barring some exceptions that border on the juvenile.

Add "As Long As You’ve Got Your Health" to your watch-list. It is just above an hour full of visual entertainment that's sure to tickle your funny bone. A constant smile and occasional peals of laughter guaranteed!

My detailed review/analysis at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/03/as-long-as-youve-got-your-health-1966.html

#JeanClaudeCarriere #PierreEtaix #Frenchcinema #France #comedy  
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A wealthy young British aristocrat, Tony (James Fox) hires Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde, fabulous as always) as his live-in servant, to cook and offer general help around his large house. Hugo is mostly a very diligent and efficient worker and especially particular about the decoration and neatness around the house.

A usually lazy and habitually spoiled Tony is quite pleased with Hugo's work and both appear to be very happy with the established arrangement. Tony's fiancée Susan (Wendy Craig) disapproves, however, and is quite uncomfortable with his presence and a resulting invasion of privacy. She also seems to be quite distrustful of him and his motives.

The status quo begins to shift, when Hugo brings home Vera (Sarah Miles), who he introduces as his sister, to help around the house as a maid. Her presence creates ripples in the existing scheme of things, as certain social barriers are transgressed. A devious machination of Tony's psychological manipulation begins to become apparent, with Tony's existence getting increasingly dependent on Hugo, giving way to a shift of power as the master and the servant gradually appear to switch roles!

Joseph Losey's "The Servant" boasts of Harold Pinter's complex script with an intriguing premise, that makes it a powerful psychological drama addressing a multitude of issues such as power play, social class conflict, an existential ennui associated with the decadent wealthy, and an employee's desire to realize the unrealistic ambition of stepping into the employer's shoes.

But the thematic concerns don't end there. As veiled as it may seem, Pinter makes a cryptic but very tangible exploration of repressed homosexuality, a sexual preference that was a criminal offence at the time, and its depiction in film, generally forbidden.

Joseph Losey's "The Servant" (1963), is a forgotten masterpiece that promises a more rewarding and enriching experience with each viewing.

My detailed analysis/review follows.

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/02/the-servant-1963.html

#TheServant #JosephLosey #HaroldPinter #DirkBogarde #JamesFox #SarahMiles
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In a small and mostly desolate, laid back French town, where seemingly nothing ever happens, an 11-year old girl is found brutally raped and murdered. The crime is unimaginably ghastly, the kind you would look away from. French filmmaker Bruno Dumont shows us the terrifying image of the brutalized body in considerable detail and for good reason too.

"L'humanité" (1999) is not about the mystery of the crime. It is in fact, about the psychological impact of witnessing something so inhuman, examined from one man's perspective, an awkward and socially inept police superintendent, Pharaon DeWinter (Emmanuel Schotté, in a hypnotic, tour de force act). A brilliant character study, the film explores the way this tragic event is received by Pharaon, a man visibly haunted by the gruesomeness of the crime, and its effect on his relationship with others around him, especially his next door neighbor, Domino (Séverine Caneele).

Despite being a part of the investigating team, it is apparent from Pharaon's visage and body language that he possesses neither the attitude nor the energy that is essential to crack a case as dangerous as this. He is a very slow, soft, and mild-mannered fellow, a man-child, a weak nincompoop, with possibly some mental issues, and is clearly not fit for his position. The investigation doesn't seem to be moving as it should either. The attitude of the cops is as lackadaisical as the town they reside in. There are no leads.

When alone, the brooding, contemplative Pharaon seems to be immersed in some sort of deep personal connect with his surroundings, soaking in nature, or just reflecting with a palpable sadness. There is certainly much more to Pharaon’s personality than what meets the eye; perhaps something beyond human understanding. And yet, Pharaon seems to be the only one with any shred of humanity that stands in sharp contrast against the abundant moral corruption around him.

Dumont’s languid style with its moody atmosphere and long silences, allows the viewer to comfortably settle in and fixate his/her gaze on Pharaon as the screenplay follows his every move. The camera captures the vast, bleak emptiness of the sleepy town in all its glory. Every frame, no matter how banal, seems to hint at something that Pharaon reflects upon. Dumont commands our attention and implores us to empathize with Pharaon, as he goes on with his strange activities, some bordering on the downright weird.

My detailed analysis/review of this extraordinary film at:

http://gokhaleaditya.blogspot.in/2016/02/lhumanite-1999.html

#Frenchcinema #France #BrunoDumont #Lhumanite
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