Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Deprived of Dignity

Paradise Now (2005) - Abu-Assad
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Rarely one sees a good political thriller that humanizes its characters. Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assan does an amazing job at portraying two childhood friends/would be suicide bombers from Nablus, the Occupied Territory. The film is neither a by-the-numbers, robotic Paul Greengrass actioner with the apologist bent nor a satirical black comedy.

Two underemployed friends- sad eyed Said (Kais Nashef) and happy-go-lucky Khalid (Ali Suliman) are chosen to be martyrs. They will blow themselves up in Tel Aviv tomorrow. Just like that. They are not to talk to anyone about it. They seem to be not only resigned to the fact but giddy about the prospects, especially Khalid. After some technical snafu, they finally tape their video statement wherein Khalid gives his mom the tips where to buy water filters. They get half-hearted congratulatory remarks by the leaders, haircut, dinner, suits, the works. With bombs strapped to their chest, their plan gets thwarted by sudden appearance of Israeli Military vehicles at the border fence. Khalid safely gets back in time but Said is left near the border and gets lost. He unwittingly becomes a fugitive.

The film buys some time for two men to think about their options. The appearance of Suha (luminous Lubna Azabal of Incendies, Here), a woman from a well to do family, returning from Europe shakes things up a little bit. Paradise Now is a great balancing act, avoiding pitfalls of heavy handed political statement without ever losing sight on showcasing the mindset of the people whose dignity has been taken away by the occupation.

"Please Think of the Children!"

The Hunt/Jagten (2012) - Vinterberg
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Yes, Mads Mikkelsen is great as Lucas, a kindergarten teacher who's falsely accused of sexual molestation in a small, tight knit community. He deserved the best actor award at the Cannes and everything. But it's Vinterberg's regular Thomas Bo Larsen who plays Theo, Lucas's best friend and the father of a little girl whose little lie that starts up a shitstorm, really shines here. Vinterberg is smart not to make it a courtroom drama or about the loss of innocence. It still retains the sharp critique on the 'please think of the children' mentality and deals with thorny subject expertly without sacrificing the narrative. The Hunt is about simmering tension underneath the society that looks picture perfect. That even someone as well regarded and decent like Lucas isn't safe once the seed of doubt is planted. The Hunt is a less grandiose, down to earth Haneke film. It's a chilling reminder of once well to do northern Europe and its turmoil in a much more complicated world. The ending is really chilling.


Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Welles
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Another great Shakespeare adaptation by Orson Welles. This time, it's Henry IV. It's the story of a young prince becoming a king, shedding off his scoundrel days and his former friends, on the way to greatness. Welles is great as massive, vulgar, cowardly and utterly sympathetic Falstaff. It's perhaps one of the most hammy (haha) roles an actor can play in the Bard's plays, which imbues both comedy and tragedy. And he is mesmerizing. With visibly limited budget, his direction is as distinct as ever, with use of vast space, light and shadows. The field battle scene where the King Henry's force meets Harry Percy's, is brutal and energetic - Welles speeds up the action in some parts, accompanied by rapid cutting. But compared with his other, better known cinematic work, it's a lesser Welles. Supporting cast includes John Gilgud, Keith Baxter, Jean Moreau and Fernando Ray.