Monday, November 28, 2011

Profoundly Moving 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly'

I had a nice, big group during my undergraduate days. Somewhere is our second year, 7 of us once went to a Movie, Black(2005). It is pretty much on the lines of The Miracle Worker(1962) though characters are not connected directly to Hellen Keller. That’s not the point however. The point is, 7 of us - perfectly capable of bringing the House down, 7 of us – who probably spent more time with each other than our own Families, were together for maybe couple of hours after movie but all we could say to each other was ”What do we do now?” “Let us go somewhere to eat” The first restaurant someone suggested was agreed upon...we reached there, some of us ordered, some of us didn’t and then ”Ok..See you in college tomorrow”. That was pretty much what we said in all the time we were together. Movie like Black can have that kind of effect on you. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; I didn’t want to do anything after watching it. I just wanted to be with myself - I don’t even know what I was thinking about. There are very few movies which have this kind of effect on you. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly(2007) is one such movie.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly(2007) is an astonishing true life-story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (On a lighter note, I love the way French pronounce Bauby, lingering a little on that last Y)- the story of wealthy and amicable Playboy and editor-in-chief of Elle, France turning into bed-ridden, paralyzed from head to toe, only capable of moving his left eye at the age of 43 due to stroke. His locked-in syndrome, locking him inside his own body, became his Prison - his Diving Bell with no means of escape from it. However, he finds his butterfly in his fantasies and memories as his mind remains unaffected. Since the only way Bauby can communicate anything is through his eye, his Speech Therapist Henrietta develops an ingenious method which allows him to talk by blinking. We see his transformation from dejected, morose person whose first thought is of death and death only to someone who authored a memoir of the same name by blinking to a code to interpret every letter of the word.

Bauby suffered his stroke in December of 1995 and he died in March 1997, just few days after French publication of his book. Film was shot in the same hospital that Bauby was kept in, it also features the same balcony he used to relax, same beach his family used to spend time with and even many assistants who actually helped Bauby. Film rides pretty high on emotions though all the actors do fine job. It takes you into the Jean-Dominique's character, you feel his depression, you feel him longing for his previous life, and you feel his determination as well to give something to the world on his way out. First 20 minutes of film are literally seen through his eyes. We see everything through his eyes; we hear all his thoughts which helps a great deal to get a gripe. And by the end, even though you know it is impossible, it also gets you to hope for a miracle.
Director Schnebel deserves a lot of credit for practically re-inventing the first-person narration in this film. By using it, we not only see Bauby's life through his own eyes but understand what he was going through, understand his metaphors of diving bell and his butterfly. Schnabel, originally painter by profession, began his film career with a biography of painter-hustler Jean Michel Basquiat Basquiat(1996) and includes Before Night Falls(2000) in his resume which captured the life of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas and launched Javier Bardem to stardom, took great risk in doing so but it helps immensely in keeping the soul of film at right place. It is a film that belnds tragic and triumphant beautifully. While watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly you might feel elated at the smallest of Bauby's achievements and milestones but Schnebel never lets Bauby Exult in them - he is still locked inside his body and Bauby knew it very well. At such a moment of personal tragedy, he did what artist can do best - He Created. Whatever else he was in life, this triumph of life over death made him noble and it ennobles this film as well.

Rating(out of 5):

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Melancholia: My First 'New Release' Review

Past month, I did several of my Firsts. It was the result of a conscious effort to go outside my usual genres and try something different. And thus I have seen movies from 3 directors I have never seen any movie of, who have always made bizarre movies and probably are few of the most controversial directors in Hollywood: 
1. David Lynch - Blue Velvet(1986). Though have seen The Elephant Man(1980) before, I don't remember it.
2. David Cronenberg - The Fly(1985). I have already written about it in the last post about 80s movies.
3. Lars Von Trier - Melancholia(2011). Which brings us here to another of my firsts. This Post.

I am sure that all of us are aware of the film since it's screening in Cannes earlier this year and controversy Von Trier created their with his statements. Personally, it almost felt like he was missing that controversial atmosphere which usually surrounds his movies and hence he just created one on his own. Not a point here though. So, I am sure that by now everyone at least knows about what the movie is about. Melancholia(2011) is a story of two sisters, Justina and Claire, who can not be more different from each other. In first half, It tells the story of Justine's Wedding Night from her perspective and in second part it tells the story of the day when planet Melancholia is expected to hit earth, this time from Claire's Perspective. I have been waiting to see this one since I first saw the trailer. Idea looked really promising and it was said to be von Trier's most accessible film. And then Kirsten Dunst went on to win the Best Actress Prize at Cannes as well and upon its release, mostly garnered positive responses. So, probably a good place to start for him. Since I haven't seen any of his previous work, I can not compare it with anything. But, on its own, it does stand pretty solidly.
Movie starts off with extended slow motion sequence where we see some of the characters in the film experiencing a planet, we later learn is named Melancholia, colliding with earth and its various effects on earth like birds dropping dead, roots coming out of ground. This sequence is shot beautifully and has a very good potential to unnerve you. This probably will remind you of the creation sequence of The Tree of Life(2011) though these are two polarizing events. Though it is a visual treat, at this point I wasn't sure what was I watching. It all comes through by the end. After that we see Justine's Wedding Reception. Justine is clinically depressed and though her sister has arranged an extravagant reception for her, she just needs a small nudge to go back to the dungeons of her depression. Her divorced parents and overly persuasive boss keep pushing her until she alienates herself from everyone. It all starts happily, looking like a congregation of family and friends enjoying the most important day in her life. However, slowly it becomes very clear that she is losing it.

Second Half, much more intriguing in my opinion, starts with Claire bringing severely depressed Justine to her Castle. Claire has a normal life, rich husband and almost looks like the exact opposite of Justine. Justine is so depressed that she is even unable to do mundane things like taking a bath. However, Melancholia is approaching. Claire is convinced that is going to collide even though her husband, an astronomy enthusiast, tries to convince her otherwise and this scares her to her wits. The reason I appreciated second half more than first is it gives much more depth to one dimensional characters up to now.  In the hours of impending doom, Claire who has been the rock of her family in any event, starts to loose it. Justine however, who is just recovering from her own depression, handles it much bravely. Thus proving Von Trier's theory that depressed person can handle the apocalyptic event much better than normal person. Even Claire's Husband John, who comes as a snob in first half, looks like a genuine family man who cares about his family - just can not stand his in-laws. It was pretty easy to hate many of these characters after first half. Second half reminds us that they also are human. It also has my favorite line in the movie, a thought I haven't been able to get out of my head since watching. Justine says "The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for earth. Nobody will miss it". More I think about it, it haunts me more.
Main Reason for this film to work is some stellar performances by Kirsten Dunst(Justin), Charlotte Gainsbourg(Claire) and most of the supporting cast. Kirsten Dunst is the pick of them all. She is the perfect embodiment of depression. One second she looks like she is enjoying the festivities around her, making a conscious effort to fight it and very next frame, she is engulfed in it. She also brings a lot of credibility to her act in second act showing real calmness in the apocalyptic event. Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally impressive and so is support cast of Kiefer Sutherland (Clair's Husband), Charlotte Rampling(Their Mom), Stellan Skarsgaard(Justine's Boss) and John Hurt(Their Father). It also looks amazing thanks to amazing cinematography throughout the film. Come Award season, it should give The Tree of Life(2011) run for his money in this department. I also like the fact that Von Tries decided to focus much more on psychological effects on a single family than showing it as a mass murdering event. Because of it, it becomes much more realistic and I did not care much about any possible scientific flaws in the film. On the negative side, it moves quite slowly and is depressing almost the whole time. It might even be little stretched in few parts. However, this is no reason to miss such a wonderfully made movie. And Wait till the End !!

And I almost forgot, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone !!

Rating(out of 5):

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Appreciating the 80s: least favorite Decade

For some reasons, 80s has always been my least favorite decade. I am not sure if it is because I don't like the movies made in 80s that much or I just haven't seen enough movies. I will be the first one to admit that I haven't seen a lot of movies from 80s. I haven't seen likes of Back to the Future(1985), Tootsie(1982) or those typical high school movies from 80s. But even those I have seen, I do not like them so much. I am not a big fan of either Star Wars or Indiana Jones. Also, I don't go crazy behind everything Kubrick or Woody Allen has made. So, not a big fan of Full Metal Jacket(1987) or Stardust Memories(1980). Maybe, I like Hannah and Her Sisters(1986). Likes of The Shining(1982), Stand By Me(1986) and Scarface(1983) are nice but are not exceptionally brilliant.

So, now that few days ago, Sam Frogoso reached to 80s in his History of Film segment, I decided to give some of the 80s movies in my watch list a try in an attempt to make a list of 10 Best Films of 80s. You know why I call 80s my least favorite decade? Because I did not have the same problem for 90s or 2000s and am pretty sure that I won't have it for 70s or 60s either. I hope at least some of these movies will help me change that.

Following are the movies I watched during this week. And I chose them because they appeared most frequently on everyone's list and I have heard lot about all of them.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986): LOVE IT !! Typical High School stuff. And I know that film isn't perfect. It is little overdone. But you know what? I do not give a damn !! It is such a fun movie to watch and characters are so fresh (look at the picture above. Isn't she a Vision?) and likable that I will watch it any day with 100 more flaws in it. The fact that I am watching it now for the first time and can still enjoy it that much should speak volumes.

The Fly(1986): My First Cronenberg Experience. So, maybe I wasn't prepared for it, But it is extremely graphic and disgusting. I probably won't be able to eat anything to next couple of days. And on top of that, I thought Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum were pretty shoddy, at least in the first half. So, pretty much, it did not work for me. But I shall admit that I think it was good story.

Sex, Lies and Videotape(1989): It is a ****ing masterpiece. I had heard a lot about it and it's really gratifying to see it go beyond the expectations. Very first scene where Anna is in her therapy got me into the film and some brilliant acting kept me in it till the end, especially Laura San Giacomo. She was brilliant as Cynthia.Also I like that it delivers the message in very subtle way. It respects the fact that an audience has its own reservations about this very 'under the covers' topic. It is gonna go way up in my list.

Back to the Future(1985): Its a nice Fun watch. Really good for 1985. But I am watching it in 2011. Still, I wasn't disappointed. Maybe its because I usually have very low expectations from 80's movies but it does stand up to it. It even stands up to its reputation for sure. Nice simple story, focuses more on characters than scientific stuff. But it works well. So, I am intrigued for the next two parts but maybe, not good enough for my top 10 of the decade.

Blade Runner(1982): Major problem I have with this movie is Ridley Scott could have easily done without a sci-fi background. Just replace Nexus-6 with someone on the death row and you have pretty much have the same story in the normal world. And I bet, same story will not be that interesting without its sci-fi element.So, pretty much just another average 80s movie.

So, this is how my list looks like,

                      Before                                                                                                           After

10. Crimes and Misdemeanors(1989)                                                   Prince of the City (1981)        
9.   The Thing(1983)                                                                                  Platoon(1986)
8.   Prince of the City(1981)                                                                    The Verdict(1982)
7.   Platoon(1986)                                                                                     Terms of Endearment(1983)
6.   The Verdict(1982)                                                                              Hannah and Her Sisters(1986)
5.   Terms of Endearment(1983)                                                            Raging Bull(1980)
4.   Hannah and Her Sisters(1986)                                                        Ferris Bueller's Day Off(1986)
3.   Raging Bull(1980)                                                                               Fanny and Alexander(1982)
2.   Fanny and Alexander(1982)                                                            Sex, Lies and Videotape(1989)

1.   Grave of the Fireflies(1988)                                                             Grave of the Fireflies(1988)  

So, Finally I have atleast five 80s movies to gloat about. It is still less for a decade but now, that I found 2 gems here, at least I have a hope that that are few more good movies around that I haven't gotten to. Any suggestions??
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