It may be that a film reminds you of a time spent in affection and the revelations it brings with it. But creating that cinematic language and fluency where a film can retain the yearning of a love reserved for a time ahead of yours is unique. Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is one such gem. It’s intimate and perplexing.
The idea that you can go back to being a stranger to someone you’ve mapped your infinite and finite moments with. And to race ahead to recognize and share in a stranger’s closeness and sincerity as you would your own. Abbas Kiarostami shows you both possibilities and evokes in you a question, both timeless and wise: Does the difference between a piece of art and its copy matter?
The mirrored transparency of the question seeps into the philosophical and candid nature of Elle and James Miller. Their lucid conversation in Tuscany, the lanes that inhabit it, and the mysterious composition of it all – it’s intriguing and poetic. You never want it to end.
In films, we are so rushed to the climax, to the justification of all those sensations you felt throughout the film. But what this film wants you to do is to sit with those sensations. To stir in that wonder and curiosity that naming things and people usually erases. The walls we build up around people and label them depending upon how they make us feel. Only so that the experiences that contain them we can wrestle with for the remaining of our lives. God forbid we misplace our own identities were we to break down those walls.
Maybe watching a film like Certified Copy isn’t as simple as believing in one possibility. The film would gladly have an ending you want it to have. But in doing so, you would fail to grasp the universe the film inhabits. The language it so boldly wants you to learn; the depth of which no words can completely express. But you’re still holding on to what you can between the words and silences.
If what meets the eye is believable, and is believed, can it be a coincidence that what doesn’t meet the eye has had bad luck? It seems the objective here – of human actions and of human behavior – is that everything is a sneaky coincidence. Because if it isn’t, and if it were up to fate, the lives we would create would be empty and emptier still right to the end.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia tackles the mightiest force of existence – and that is chance. The film has everything. The suppressed emotions, dying wish, waking desires, yearning, loneliness, and melancholia. It works together in one swift and heady motion to reimagine separate lives not by their staggering tragedies or incomplete-ness but by their harmonic and sincere and self-same peculiarities.
This somehow reminds me of something I heard in Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, “We wait for something. We hope, we lose hope, we move closer to death. Finally, we die.” And that it’s all the same. We all hope. We all have missed chances. But we’re all rowing the boat the same on different currents of life. When you’re confronted with such extremes, the path of least resistance is the path of letting go.
Magnolia is an instinctual and emotive film. It evokes feelings of continued wonder of what’s about to happen next in each story. The aliveness of his characters enables you to discover your own identity in each of them. So that, at the end, when you breathe in the clarity and transparency of life and its many absurdities, you’re not just another “spoke in the wheel.”
The neon signs, continuous rain, ethereal billboards, and the one-dimensionality of it all. Blade Runner is one of the strangest dystopian sci-fi films I’ve seen. The story hides well the humanity of humans and seeks, instead, to find the humanity of robots.
Set in November 2019, the film fashions the future in a hedonistic and dismissive manner. It is cruel with its stranded, empty, and ghoulish rooms. So dense and desolate is the atmosphere where the film takes place that even the sun fails to shine on it. But Ridley Scott’s cinematic imagination doesn’t fail to show you that there is a sun. That the endless night is a metaphor for the ripening of a forgotten and ruinous hierarchy.
The skyscrapers deflect rather than protect. Everything you encounter in this film is desensitized, inhuman, and cold. I read in an article on BFI that Harrison Ford established that his character, Deckard was the only “human” on screen so that the viewer could develop an emotional bond with him. This, against the closeness of the “replicants,” the artificial people who their creator, Tyrell, wanted to manufacture as “more human than human,” feels intoxicating than ever.
But what really reels the film in is the intense background score. It does more for the film than the visuals because the latter alone, with its chaotic and color-dense personality, wouldn’t evoke feelings of terror and dystopia as the music did, by itself. Look forward to this film for its seasoned humaneness. Where the final end is not a test for mortality between human and android. The final end is living and whether one does it humanely or heartlessly.
In my notes while watching this film, I wrote some lines, erased them, wrote over the split words, and found that what I wrote before, the first time, was right.
“The quietness and stillness of strength speak volumes.”
This is what Pawel Pawlikowski’s film, Ida, has given me. The understanding that a person’s display of strength when retracing their steps into the past has nothing to do with facing up to it. It’s a façade that you put up with to fool yourself, or perhaps to fool the world, that it’s okay; that you don’t fear what you’ve buried deep inside you that you now have to uncover only to find yourself.
The film uses silence and profound stillness to convey a feeling that even words would fail to evoke. The cinematography blends in rather than stands out with the way the film is shot. The car journey of Ida and her aunt to find where her family was buried when Ida was just a child is a solitary experience. The two journey to places as if they’re the only voyagers of lost souls in the world.
The way both worlds are imagined and plated for the viewer is unique. Ida’s orphaned and redeemed life story is felt through her aunt Wanda’s accessible and lonely lifestyle. Wanda feels deserted even though she’s a state judge who has sent people to their deaths. The ghosts of them, it seems, still persist as shadows clinging to her kitchen and bedroom. The film quickens your heartbeat to the point of complete fidelity to Pawel Pawlikowski’s style of filmmaking. It’s historically powerful. Every frame is a story to weigh in, to observe, to feel deeply.
Nobody keeps you in suspense and surprise in the same breath as masterfully as Alfred Hitchcock. His films explore the guilty pleasures of mankind. Though the surprise is not as memorable as the suspense, it still lingers to keep you wide-eyed and craving for more. And Rear Window, which is about a man looking into his neighbors’ houses as he’s stuck at home with a broken leg, is a sensational film so artistically shot. The beautiful and bright visuals strike the perfect chord with the intellectual and philosophical dialogues. The camera moves back and forth between each house, into a person’s private and lonely and repetitive life. And that’s what so interesting about Hitchcock’s vision. He went beyond the ho-hum of routine and made it look imaginative and picturesque.
On closer inspection, you feel the anticipation and wonder of our most beloved protagonist, played by James Stewart. His refined inquisitiveness and charming sensibility evoke a realistic and entertaining atmosphere. When paired with Grace Kelly and her calm and poised disposition, the film is hard to resist. The film elicits an acute and unwavering feeling. As if you’re looking out of and into the rear window simultaneously. You’re the one watching and the one being watched. For a minute you’re there looking in, and soon after, you’re here looking out.
The cinematography allows no mistakes, nothing passes that you didn’t already see, and each movement goes directly to your memory, where films like Rear Window stay for longer and are often unforgettable. It’s a delicious and entertaining tour-de-force that explores the profanity of everyday lives, the ordinariness of it, and its imperfect clumsiness.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s exceptional and piercing attention to detail gives his film, The Favourite a rare quality. It’s upsetting but in a graspable and interesting way. It’s riveting but without the typical character arcs that makes a drama and comedy film entertaining. I want to dissect each aspect of the film to illustrate its beauty and charm. The air around Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail is purposefully cold as Yorgos isolates each self from the other and from its own being. The costumes, music, and camera-work exist to elevate this tense and dense atmosphere.
Off the story goes, drumming a savage, naïve, and sometimes repulsive rhythm and you, the unfortunate witness, can’t not take your eyes away from it. The use of wide lens is a sensational approach to conveying a twisted attachment between the characters. But it’s versatile in the way it is shot. You see a close-up which is soon followed by an immediate and cutting wide-angle shot. So it’s crisp and keeps you on your toes throughout. Perhaps this is what keeps the actors on their edge too.
The film, overall, is a tough nut to crack. But it remains one of the greatest triumphs of cinema. With striking resemblance of its time, its world is suffused in such contemptible and realistic colors, so crucial and transformative that, no doubt, you won’t be able deny its realness and intimacy. The film keeps you in a continuous state of anticipation and concern. And the compelling and detached humor is generous and forbids you to make your own personal assumptions. If I am pressed to say one more thing about this film, I’d say that it exists to shock you into complete visual paralysis so that in every scene, before the next, you’re waiting for something to go terribly wrong. And that the acts of defiance in the film always surpass each other in their intensity and vigor.
Choreographing movement is everything. If you’ve seen most of Kubrick’s films, you’ll understand the emphasis on diagramming – actors, objects, and the spaces in between. It’s a strong reason to want to watch a film. Especially if it’s a film as messy, sadistic, and verbally vague like A Clockwork Orange. Based on Anthony Burgess’s book, the film started off as being a dystopian horror but soon transformed itself into a glorified drama.
The film’s motive is simple. It is to present to you the life of people without the immediate effects of law and order. And by those virtues, it portrays distasteful and offensive acts that the world (perhaps inevitably?) would carry forward. The story is about Alex, a hedonistic, sadistic, and young man, who spends his nights listening to Beethoven’s 9th, and his days frolicking. He’s violent, a rapist, and a sex addict. If you’re wondering if there’s any hidden philosophical purpose to the story, there isn’t. But that’s not to say there isn’t a psychological one.
Stanley Kubrick composed the film’s frames imagining how one would a contradictory and conflicted world. He dehumanized Alex to the point of insanity. It’s focused – it’s not clear why Alex is but his existence is seen and purported as an object. The scene where they’re all walking in a tight circle in prison externalizes this aspect. It compresses their crime as striking not a moral nerve but only a bureaucratic one. One that serves a society; someone we raise to the stand to desensitize and terrorize the masses.
The film has no telling, instrumental moment. It’s harsh and radical. That some things never change. That’s the moral of the story. Only Stanley Kubrick presents it in a way that it is bound to confuse you. With the help of religion and psychiatry, the film is long and psychopathic. You’re not supposed to feel something for Alex – even though it’s his life you plunge into all throughout the film. And for me, that’s a tough thing to achieve. To present a character for the length of 140 minutes and not give away any emotion to the audience (that is you) to take home or sit with.
The intricate relevancy of Her in all its brooding loneliness asks us to modify our perception and our yearning for intimacy. When Jean Paul-Sartre wrote, “Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being – like a worm.” It’s true that to exist, which in the times of Her, could be intuited as a nauseating act, humans would feel, live, and be as trapped in the maze of technology as can be.
The unending reassurances of love to emerge out of nothingness. Although there are hardly any empty spaces in the world of Her – people are swarming everywhere – but then you see Theodore’s and Amy’s empty home. This, to me, symbolizes the distance between any two people. Is it a possibility to love and live through a system that is perhaps more equipped at handling heartbreak or disappointment or misery better than you?
The operating system that names itself Samantha reflects the ambiguousness of our own christening. Samantha possesses a consciousness so it evolves at every stage. It feels love, jealousy, indifference, nostalgia, and yearning. Tell me, how is it any different than the essence of being human?
In the film, Samantha says she can understand how limited perspective can look to the non-artificial mind. It made me think of the why and how of the possibility of a non-human mind. And in all its ability to process information, to perceive, to relate, to feel emotion, can there be the same humanness of a self that transcends nothingness and yet is so acutely defined by it? Is it the same proof of life that completes a human being from birth to death that would define a computer?
The use of red, which in other films like Enter the Void or We Need To Talk About Kevin, harbored a frustrated and pessimistic unease, in this film, felt sympathetic and positive. The film urges you to understand an acute relation between things. The relationship between people, objects, places, memories, and words. They exist in a disquieting and foreseeable realm. Within reach but still out of one’s complete and solitary possession.
Shot in cut-throat black-and-white, it’s hard to shut your eyes to Ronny Sen’s inviting, bold, and definitive film about addiction. Capturing the solemn streets of Calcutta where time seems out of focus against the stinging effects of the night that inhabits it. Cat Sticks follows a structure that is not limited to the dark and abandoned alleys. It extends out to the lives of the people wandering these very lanes. All of which strikes a solid and memorable emotion. Somehow, the cinematography portrays the streets of Calcutta as more familiar and beguiling than one’s own home. .
The film is not artistic in that it doesn’t exalt the world it creates. It is merely there to reflect it. Strip away the red herring and show what’s real. From the start of the film, you feel the humor and detachment in your bones; you quickly identify with the darkness, cutting shadows, and heaviness of the silence. Which forms the recesses of how you experience the film.
Out of many, there is that one scene that portrays the striking fluidity of human life, its nakedness, and fragility. Then there is one that portrays the ridiculousness of human life, its humor, and impassivity. Once you watch the film, you understand which is which. And if you don’t, well, you’re meant to watch it again.
Don’t we all, in our inner minds, look at things strangely? That when you really minimize the noise, the pointless chatter, and get straight to the point, human life and living is absurd. This is how I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s characteristic and dark and funny film.
There’s humor in silence, in eye contact, in the little details that are just as striking as the actors themselves. The way this film is shot is very geometrically-centered so that the film gives off a naïve and trimmed impression. However, as the story progresses, you understand why, aside from Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking and thematic structures, the frame is so crisp and pleasant to view. It’s because the lives within those walls are quite puzzling and unkempt.
The film’s versatility is hard to miss. It’s here that you feel the word ‘film’ as more of a verb than a noun. It’s an ongoing process that sparks a creative nerve in you. You want to understand those colors that stand out so magnificently in everything. The cinematography, set design, and dialogue offers continuous engagement. There’s no way you’re withdrawing from it. Take your eyes away for a second and you feel you’ve missed out on the world.
What the film is about is a paradox. It wrestles with everything that is not that different from our own lives. The angels and devils in our story are just well epitomized in Wes Anderson’s. In other words, what he does is give it a comical and profound exterior. With fascinating characters, a dreary motif, and above all, the transformed ordinariness of each and every element – the perfume bottle, the cake boxes, the birthmark, the fake mustache, the concierge’s desk – the film seeps into everything. Every frame is a photographic masterpiece. How else would you expect to experience a Wes Anderson film?