Archive for the Other Languages Category

Malena

Posted in DVDs, Hollywood, Other Languages with tags , , , on May 20, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

I like re watching good movie or revisiting a favorite book or a piece of art, mostly because I consider them a yardstick of how much I have changed as a person or how my understanding and perception of something has shifted as I grow older and hopefully wiser. I found myself just as moved by it as a coming of age movie and slightly peeved and ashamed some 13 years later.

It is written and directed by Guiseppe Tornatore and has the gorgeous Monica Belucci as Malena. It is narrated by Renato(Guiseppe Sulfrano), a 12 yr old boy who lives in a small village in Sicily. Three life changing things happen to him in one day. He gets a bike, Italy goes to war and he sees the village beauty Malena and is instantly, irrevocably in love. Malena’s husband Nino Scordia, has gone off to war and every man in the village, irrespective of their age wants to “comfort” Malena, the devastaingly gorgeous, lonely, grieving wife. For Malena her beauty really is a curse. She cannot find employment as most of the men don’t want to hire her, being scared of the wrath of the women in their lives, be it be their mother or wife. Everyday as Malena makes her way to the employment agency, the whole town is a at a standstill. The men ogle, dream and sigh, while the women spew vitriol against this woman whose only crime is beauty. Renato follows the object of his wet dreams incessantly and is the only one in the whole village who knows the real Malena. Malena gets the devastating news that her husband Nino has been killed in the war. Renato is the only one who witnesses Malenas grief. He prays that God keep Malena safe from the villagers till he grows up, so that he can take care of her. The news of Nino’s death blows hope into the hearts of the men in town. After the mourning period, Malena starts seeing an officer openly and this inflames the men as they have been passed up. Malena is wrongfully sued by the town dentists wife for committing adultery with her husband. As she has no money she is forced to avail of pro bono services from Centorbi, a lawyer, who extracts payment by raping her. Centrobi wishes to marry Malena, but his plans don’t come to fruition when his mother refuses to allow it. Malens father dies and her only income dries up. War comes to the town and she is forced to go into prostitution to feed herself. The villagers watch smugly as all their rumors become reality and they see Malena selling herself to Germans. They congratulate themselves on being astute judge of character. When the American come in after the war, the villagers mets out biblical justice by stoning her in the piazza and cutting her hair. Renato is heartbroken for Malena and watches her leave town.

As Renato’s coming of age movie, it is a pleasurable, funny, astute depiction of a hormonal adolescent. Even while overcome with his boyish lust for her he is always filled with tenderness and he wants to take care of her and protect her from all the evil townsfolk. Having seen his first and deepest love being treated so badly, makes Renato a much more compassionate, understanding and respecting lover of women.

As a woman I was a little peeved and ashamed at the level of vitriol, jealousy and insecurity that the women of this village display towards Malena. And I felt that the men in this movie, even if they carry out all the objectifying and raping ,is very conveniently depicted as victims of Malena’s inhuman beauty. It’s this uncontrollable lust for this sexy siren, that the women react to with so much venom and I felt the men were absolved of any responsibility for their actions or thoughts. I realize that Tornatore meant for this to be taken as a gross exaggeration of the reaction of a few. And that it would’ve compromised the integrity of the narrative if he had a couple of the women in the village showed some compassion or a couple of men who are not in thrall of Malena’s beauty. Sadly I have to agree that his assessment of female pshyce is not too far off the mark. I hope us women would make some more effort in supporting our fellow sisters, both the beautiful ones and the not so beautiful ones.

If you are in the mood for a great adolescent boy coming of age movie your time will be more rewarded if you spend it watching Cinema Paradiso. It is more Felliniesque Italian than Malena is. Malena is definitely worth a watch. Tornatore is very good at showcasing the nuances of human behavior, especially an adolescent’s life. Both Malena and Cinema Paradiso are great in this respect.

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Blue is the warmest color(La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2)

Posted in Hollywood, Other Languages on May 6, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

Blue is the warmest color is a brilliant coming of age drama which has been adapted from a graphic novel of the same name. It is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2013 and was the first time the honor was awarded with the stipulation that it be shared with the two leading ladies and the director. Make no mistake that this is in anyway an easy, run of the mill romance. It is one of the most intense love stories I have ever watched on film. I loved it so much that I watched it twice in 24 hrs!

Adele(Adèle Exarchopoulos) ,a high school student is going through her last years of high school. She is very sure of what she wants out of her future career as a kindergarten teacher. She is a typical middle class, older teen going through school, sharing gossip and possible romances, until a fateful encounter with a blue haired girl on the street. Confused about her own reaction towards this stranger, she decides to test her sexual waters with a boy, but ultimately ends up faking everything. She ultimately breaks up with him. She meets the blue haired stranger Emma(Léa Seydoux) at a gay bar and they share a conversation. There is no stopping this train from the moment they met each other on the street. The rest of the movie is about their passionate relationship’s ups and downs over the next 6-7 yrs.

The pace of the movie is something that takes a little getting used to and that is not a bad thing in anyway. The camera work is done in very closeup shots and remains focused on ordinary actions like eating for an inordinately long amount of time. But this makes us the viewer to be forced to not just be a voyeur in these two lovers life, but be very much a part of their world. The director is very taken with textures of food, skin, flesh, you name it. I found this fascinating, may be because I like art and paintings. Every flicker of the eye, every glance is captured and rendered beautifully to show us this fascinating relationship. Stick with the narrative to the end and you will be rewarded with a one of the most superbly acted scenes that is set in Emma’s apartment.

You can see that both the actors were made to pay with blood,sweat and tears(literally) to give us these brilliantly immersive performances. Adèle Exarchopoulos is completely captivating on screen. She gave a very visceral performance and Kechiche made sure her expressiveness was fully utilized. Léa Seydoux was perfect as the outwardly tough, seasoned lesbian. I know I have not addressed the scene that has been the talk of the town, so to speak. The long lesbian sex scene, that seems to be the biggest topic of conversation regarding this movie. The lesbians think it is not authentic and that it caters to a male fantasy( director’s), the labor people complain about the working conditions in which it was shot. Yes it is long, yes it is very intense and yes it is two women. Could it have been short and still conveyed the intensity, yes it could’ve been. But I can see the directors intention too. He wanted to show the total abandon with which Adele participated with Emma and the contrast with how she was with her attempt at sex with someone with whom she had no chemistry(the boyfriend). Also the length of the scene is in keeping with the pace of the rest of the movie. Just like in the rest of the movie, the camera lingers, there is no hurry, the pauses between conversations are not rushed, and in between those pauses a flickers of the eye of a shy glance an communicate volumes. Which I thought was beautiful, but I can see how the same narrative devices can seem too intimate and make it too intense in a sex scene. I found a very interesting interview with the leading ladies at the Daily Beast, which created rift between them and the director. It is a very interesting read, to see the price they both had to pay for this brilliant movie. Like the interviewer I selfishly felt the end justified the means. Easy for me to say!

Definitely a must watch. Parents send the kiddies to bed and be ready to dedicate 3 hrs of your life to do this movie justice. Excellent movie all around.

Il Postino(The Postman)

Posted in Other Languages with tags , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by Roshan Mathew

Il Postino, was the 1st Italian movie I had ever seen. Being in India, in a world without internet, the only way I could get information about Hollywood and the good movies from the west was to watch the Oscars. I would wait pen and paper in hand to write down all the nominees. And I would diligently watch all the movies I can get a hold of. And Italian movies are hard to come by in Kerala! This re-watch was definitely worth it after almost 20 yrs.!!!

Il Postino was made in 1994 and got 5 nominations for that year’s Academy Awards, including best picture, best actor and screenplay.(Massimo should’ve won instead of Nicholas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas, or they shouldve given to Sean Penn for the wonderful Dead Man Walking) It won for best score. Its directed by Michael Radford. What makes the movie all the more special and heart-rending for me is the fact that the lead actor Massimo Troisi had postponed his heart surgery to complete filming and died just 12 hrs after completion of the filming. So watching him on-screen is bitter-sweet as you are appreciating his talent and mourning the loss of it at the same time.

Mario Ruppolo(Massimo Troisi) lives with his fisherman father in a small Italian Island, where pretty much everyone is a fisherman. He is a thinker, but has no words or even coherent thoughts to give life to his feelings of unhappiness about his lot in life. All he knows is that he does not want to be fisherman like his father, so he wastes his time doing nothing.

When his father comments of his unemployment, he takes a temporary job as a postman who works exclusively for Pablo Neruda(Philippe Noiret), a Chilean excommunicated from his country for his communist propaganda. At first Mario, just like his fellow villagers  is caught up by the celebrity of his sole employer . He is fascinated by the fact that Neruda is getting so many letters from women admirers and hopes to get pointers from Neruda, on how to impress the ladies.

Mario tries different conversational openings to get Neruda to talk to him. We as audiences,  are made to witness each and every uncomfortable effort. His persistence pays off and Neruda and Mario strike up an unconventional, but surprisingly intellectually equal friendship. The barely literate Mario, painstakingly reads Neruda’s poetry and is very taken by the ideas expressed by the poet. Neruda has put into words every unfinished, unformed existential  crisis that Mario had struggled to put into words his whole life. The otherwise timid Mario is alight with passion when he tells Neruda that he was very touched by Neruda’s line of  “I am tired of being a man” and that he has always felt that, but did not know how to say it. Neruda encourages Mario to use his newly discovered gift of metaphors to describe the things around him and to appreciate and understand life through poetry.

Neruda helps Mario impress Beatrice-the girl of his dreams( (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). The whole courtship is cute and funny. I especially enjoyed the reactions of the village priest and Beatrice’s aunt when they discover Mario’s metaphorical poems about Beatrice’s nude body. Beatrice inevitably falls under the spell of Mario’s magnificent metaphors and marries him.

The ban against Neruda is lifted and he is allowed to return to Chile. Mario’s life in the absence of Neruda is happy and fulfilling but he misses his friend and awaits some form of communication or acknowledgment of the friendship, that was so life changing for him. When he reads an interview with Neruda, where he talks about the ‘simple’ people he met on his Italian exile, the villagers tell Mario that Neruda used him and discarded him. Mario is quick to correct them saying that it was him who received the gift of life,words and poetry from Neruda and not the other way around. He realises that he has the words and thoughts to acknowledge and appreciate the beauty of his island, just like he was able to appreciate and win Beatrice with his thoughts and words. Expressing himself has made his personal life more rewarding and he wants to use his new-found voice to do something for the greater good of his beloved island, just like his friend Neruda had told him.

The acting by every character was perfect. Massimo Torsi conveys every facet of  Mario’s simple, Sicilian island character with his  expressive hands and subtle Italian mannerisms. Philippe Noiret is the quintessential knowledgeable man, who has a world of experience and the words at his disposal to express himself. Maria Grazia Cucinotta is the perfect unattainable Italian bombshell for Mario. The locales and the cinematography by Franco de Giacomo is in itself reason enough to watch this beautiful, funny,poignant movie. The score by Luis Bacalov(which won the Academy award)provides the perfect backdrop to this beautiful film about the beauty of poetry and words. Just like Neruda says in the movie about over explaining poetry “Better than any explanation, is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it”,  the poetic beauty of Il Postino is better judged by watching it with a wide open heart.