Film Review of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

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?

Film Review of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso

This film is like a cloud that hovers above you, comforts you, makes you laugh, and then as it passes over, you’re covered in sadness and nostalgia. Cinema Paradiso is one of those sensitive, sentimental, and unyielding films that you feel more than you can see. That’s not to say it isn’t visually charming. The projection booth, the striking and unforgettable black-and-white films, the noisy and smoked theatre, the seats that crowded it, and the kinds of people sitting on them. It all suddenly seeps under your skin and becomes a physical part of you – unwilling to let go.

What emerges out of this is a breathtaking and emotional film about life. As enraptured is Salvatore Di Vita by films and his relationship with Alfredo, you feel a quiet yearning growing in you to be there with them. Go into that projection room to learn how to operate it, watch through a square hole in the wall as it projects on the screen, sit next to a lonely man mouthing all the words of the film before it actually happens, feel the dream-images on the screen ignite all the childlike passions you had, curse and yell when the film’s about to end and you don’t want it to. The hall that is home to the world of cinema makes a special home in your heart. That’s Salvatore Di Vita’s childhood. His first job, his first love, his first heartbreak, his first becoming as an adult.

The film is beautifully made as it unmasks all such phases of life. I think it’s a mistake to see them as phases; as something that possesses an end right from the start. Rather they’re shades that intensify and wrap you in your happiest and saddest moments. Then you learn to let them go not because they no longer serve you but because you don’t serve them. Life is not sorrow or misery or pain, amid films of this kind, but it is love, wisdom, and stillness that we build the capacity for – for a reality that exists outside of the cinema hall.

Book Review of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

“Around us fear, descending,
Darkness of fear above;
And in my heart how sweet unending
Ache of love.”
– On The Beach At Fontana, James Joyce

Most likely, we live with our ability to love and with the longing that is love. It seems to me that there is lots of ground to cover where there should be love, at it is, in between the two. In the course of 900 pages, you, the reader, get to know some striking personalities, and some of them, perhaps in their closeness and yearning in spiritual exile and atonement, might even be you.

Anna Karenina is not a story about love fated to desertion. It’s an imaginative, mysterious, and a thorough account of the conflict between intelligence and sentiment. How both thrive within and without each other’s admiration and later, animosity. Although sentiment has a deeper, more cultural home in society. Intelligence draws one’s psyche toward the philosophy, the understanding, dichotomy, purpose, and extraction of sentiment. In the process, you perceive the fragility of sentiment. The bleakness of it, its uncertainty, its tendency to break as quickly as an object of glass.

The book is no stranger to this clash of such striking faculties of thought, of being. The raging metaphors and, what seemingly continues for an eternity, the insecurity and transparency of the characters. All this instills an empathetic but an unemotional nerve in me. The story is far removed from society’s shallow and conservative eye. But this very fact lays heavy on the portrayal of Anna. Her unhappiness and her interpretation of it. The book is generously written in that the deafening ignorance, the greed, the hedonistic affectation of the story is tough to open up to. But as you do, the loss of self outweighs the tragedy.

Anna Karenina is a transformative read. Even more so once you realize Konstantin Levin is Leo Tolstoy’s altered psyche, conscience, and philosophy.  His is a story of striking and unforgettable devotion and delight. For me, the unraveling of his character, so passionate, intelligent, and moving, is one of the most gripping things I’ve read.

Film Review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers

The portal to desire is often through self-expression. Both, discovered and spent in the same breath, are often interlaced. We can’t know what desire is and yearn for it if we don’t know how to unrestrainedly express ourselves. And when that happens, does it matter who we express ourselves to? That self that one sees tucked away in somebody else is but the object of one’s desire. This person is an extension of our own mind and soul. So, one desires nobody but oneself.

The Dreamers is a bold, gripping, and aligned film. It highlights French cinema and how the New Wave directors rewired perspective; brought it to fruition in Paris, it’s the ‘60s, with films like Godard’s Breathless or Truffaut’s The 400 Blows or Bergman’s Persona inspiring the human spirit. The film is philosophically shot – assimilating cues from these very films. And at the center of it all is the titillating cast – Eva Green, Michael Pitt, and Louis Garrel.

As I was watching the film, I was reminded of why films are essential to me. It’s one of those scenes that have nothing special in them, no sudden transformation, no fireworks, nothing. There’s silence and stillness. That’s where the actors are the most defenseless and stripped down to their purest performances. There are many such moments in The Dreamers. Conveyed in absolute freedom, the intimacy, unpretentiousness, the naivete of innocence and youth, you see them all here. It is here, too, that you feel the necessity of such self-expression and the reluctance of it.

Film Review of Joshua Safdie & Benny Safdie’s Good Time

You can subject people to much unease and anticipation with color. It doesn’t matter how you want to see it. You see what’s there – and it’s gritty, uncomfortable, and hypnotizing. Good Time, starring Benny Safdie and Robert Pattinson, is a picturesque film. It’s about Connie’s (Robert Pattinson) desperate and conflicted and bizarre journey, all squeezed into a single night, to get his brother, Nick (Benny Safdie) back.

Both characters have sharp and unforgettable personalities. Connie is the ardent and possessive brother shielding Nick from the “real world.” Ironical as that is since Connie takes him through a bank robbery in the most sophisticated way possible. Subtle cues indicate the desperation and thrill of such an endeavor. And yet, Nick remains detached perhaps unconscious of the aftermath of such a crime. Here you realize Nick’s allegiance to his brother, Connie.

I’d like to go a bit further and urge you to understand why Connie is how he is. You’d expect such a ruthless and devil-may-care human to not have a relatable element. But in this film, there comes a moment when Connie slips into human skin. You weigh him by his words, his actions, and then, as soon as he slips out of it, you don’t see him the way you did just a few minutes back. This quick and powerful transformation happens in a matter of minutes. So penetrating that even his silence, at the end of the movie, is monumental.

What’s certainly gripping about Good Time is the cinematography. It has a conscious and psychotic breath. It puts you right in the driver’s seat. Only it’s a car with just an accelerator and no steering wheel. The film wants to you feel that same thrill, fear, and trepidation you’d feel on such a journey.

Film Review of Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies

You need to trust an animated film. It possesses a childlike nature; the fabric of which is unfeigned and vulnerable. We don’t live life in such vivid and beaming colors. Assimilating landscapes that are bold enough to capture the vestibules of our mind. Our imagination is mimicked (perhaps even limited) by own perceptibility. And this symphonizes how we think of others – people, nature, buildings, trees, roads, places we’ve never been, places too briefly seen to be remembered. I haven’t experienced a film as realistically and candidly as the Grave of the Fireflies.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel, the story is about Setsuko and Seita. It transcends hostility in the way history perceives it. How it writes famine, war, survival, bloodshed, desertion, and invasion as mere words. But the living and breathing of it are left behind in the dust. As we are specks of dust, such suffering and loss is what makes each dust an entire universe. So Carl Sagan writes, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

This film is poetic and artistic. It’s not defined by its spatial dimensions. You see it as a tragic painting and, all at the same time, you hear it as you would a transformative tale. There’s no past that shows you what has passed or no future that bears witness to what’s left. The pain is in the here and now; so voluminous and defined, it lingers even after the film ends.

Grave of the Fireflies has substance and essence. It reaches to such intense complexities of the heart. The seed that remains, no matter how gorged and depleted it has become by what falls from above… sowing its own beauty and virtue.

Film Review of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin

A rare and uncomfortable film (based on a novel), We Need To Talk About Kevin addresses many psychological tiffs. Besides the more conspicuous ‘nature versus nurture’ debate. The film takes you down a different kind of rabbit hole, quite bizarre, gritty, and disturbing. And that’s the Oedipus Complex. The mother-son bond that depravedly relates to incest or “Oedipal love.” But in this film, that love, affection, maybe even lust reverts to hate, hostility, and provocation.

You see the self-assertive and withdrawn mother, Eva, navigate a difficult and acutely-visceral son, Kevin. The story is binary, constantly perplexed and overwhelmed by the mother’s and son’s lives. Around them, the husband, Franklin, and their second daughter, Celia, exist as shadows… perhaps of their psyche. It’s because of films like these that I don’t read about a film, the plot, reviews, etc. before watching it. The suspense and anticipation of every next second, the acting, dialogue, character development, setting, and highlights feel authentic and unavoidable as in real life.

The film goes to extremes and can be too much to take in. Period. It faces something much more sincere than motherhood and parenting. A human is fragile and unconscious, especially during childhood, and exempt but privy to such acute mental and psychophysical conditioning. It’s insane how knowing and perceiving are two exclusive faculties. The film highlights this while exemplifying antisocial behavior as confused – in the clutch of subjective and objective realities.

The tomatoes, the color red, the desensitizing glares, the hollow shelves and furniture, the toilet training, diapers, the hair. We Need To Talk About Kevin refers to a conversation that comprises of such visual details. Exhibiting a distressing, remissive, and damnable state of mind. The kind that most people don’t think about or even imagine but it’s there as if hereditary.

Book Review of Goethe’s Faust Part One

Where do I begin? My first reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s Faust (Part One) is a story of such grave and unredeemable sensibility. A poignant work of drama that’s not meant for reading but performing. Be that as it may, I read it to the point of absolute necessity. As if the time spent not reading this book is time spent in a state of total uselessness and disorientation. So yes, it’s not meant for reading but performing. If performing means to fulfill an act as acute as ingesting Faust’s yearning and desperation for adventure, desire, and passion.

Mephistopheles, the Devil incarnate, strikes a bet with God. To lure a vain, scientific, and intellectual man, Faust, to become a beguiled and shallow captive of pleasure. In exchange, Mephistopheles receives Faust’s soul and allegiance. The exchange is greedy and impulsive. As Faust travels through these stages of exploration, he finds himself despairingly holding on his past self, yet impatient and greedy; in search for something greater, larger, something that anchors him to the ground beneath. A stab in the dark. Ironically, to redeem his soul.

What anchored me to this story was Faust’s frustration. The “shadow of a life” he lived, as described by Mephistopheles. Faust’s quest for knowledge, as omniscient as it is, was not enough to satisfy and titillate his soul. It was all a delusion, once sweet and heroic, later became the source of his uneasiness and impatience. Perhaps the passion he so craved was yet another delusion. A truth that is so painful to swallow: that desire and loathing are inseparable beings; one cannot be felt without the other.

“Sometimes a place is very hard to leave-
But it’s just not one’s destination.”

Film Review of Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild

It’s strange and vivid; Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild, shot in such tight, impenetrable spaces, excuses the frivolity of youth. BFI calls this “the yawning existential ennui of youth” and I could just as simply and convincingly end this review here. Because that’s the perfect summation of the film.

Martin Heidegger once wrote in Being and Time, “Everyone is the other and no one is himself.” Why do we human beings be when being itself has such a paradoxical nature? The duality of desirability and distaste is so impermanent, so why do we desire at all? This film garners the strength to prove the innocence of such conflicting passions. Perhaps the impermanence itself elevates such encounters. Without the ticking lapses of time spent in loving, affection, desire and the lack of it, our lives would feel depleted.

The film shows itself as it is and as it has already been understood. But the beauty lies elsewhere. The beauty lies in the passing of the film. The unfolding of its characters, the closeness followed by the distance, it’s because of this that Days of Being Wild is memorable.

It forces you to ask yourself, “What would you do? How would you feel?” But soon enough, you understand that we don’t really know all the answers. We just pretend that we do. And make up a good way to conceal that in the moments we inhabit. Those recesses that are often inhabited by somebody else… days, weeks, months, perhaps years later. Only we can never know them.

Film Review of Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Celine Sciamma gathers all of life’s longing and affection, those you have felt and have had to let go of and those that are yet to come, into an embracive and enigmatic film. The Portrait of a Lady on Fire bridges the ephemeral with the everlasting. It’s a reflection of sentimental love, blotched in the very absence that it contains and soon this very absence deepens and vibrates the void too malignant and brusque to contain it.

Compare it to Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, this film’s softer, more isolated, more real. The love affair is arousing and tender and startling not because it’s “forbidden.” But because it blends the artistic with the emotional… the naked, rawness of romance that makes the film distinctly spiritual and emotional.

Female desire – as wavering and intense to be captured on screen– is spirit rather than substance which, in ordinary life, is where the storm is felt the most. And films like Portrait of a Lady on Fire explore and ignite such an invisible force of nature. It’s essential cinema in that it’s indispensable. If the synthesis of a self is what is rather than what can be – then the past, present, and future spent in such deep affection is not time-bound. It’s the sum of all the experiences, emotions, and frustrations that that love arouses in us. It allows us to internalize it, embrace it, give it meaning, and for most of us, watch it recede as the sun sets on our desperation to love, our destructibility. And our wanting to never miss out on what could happen though it never once did.