One of the biggest events of the year when it comes to movies, Cannes Film Festival, started on 15th May. Even though Sidney Lumet disregards it as ‘nothing but glorified sales convention’ in his book, for many of us it is still a big deal. At least we get an idea of what to expect from many films that we are waiting eagerly for. During the time of the festival, Criterion made a bunch of their films that made splash in Cannes in the past, free for streaming on Hulu. Having many of them on my watch list for some time, I decided to make maximum of this opportunity and here we are, with the ‘Palme d’Or Winners’ edition of ‘1001 Movies’ mini reviews.
Z(1969): Politics and History are the two things that have always fascinated me. Costa-Gavras’ political drama Z, based on a book by Vasilis Vasilikos, brings these two topics together and hence has been on my watch-list for quite some time. It is very difficult to sum up Z in few sentences without giving up too much about it. Or it is difficult to sum it up in few sentences that will sound as fascinating as movie is. I probably can round it in single sentence – it is a story of murder and subsequent trial of a leader of left-wing party in the right-wing military led country. If you don’t have problem with watching politically motivated movies and that doesn’t entice you, you’ll have to take my word that every second of it was in fact intriguing. Also, what happens is probably less important than how and why? Story has many layers to it and works on multiple fronts that, as a viewer, you have to keep track of. At the same time, there are so many characters we are introduced to and so many events that happen at a very brisk pace. But, not having read the book I do not know if it the story or screenplay that I should credit, it is told in such a way that it never gets confusing. All the events line-up perfectly, all the characters get enough time to leave their impression.
Another interesting thing about it was the way it changes the protagonist in the middle of it. At the start whole focus is in Z, this charismatic leader played by Yves Montand, and various problems their organisation faces arranging the event he is in the town for, the death threat he receives and eventually the attack on him which results in his death. Enter Jean-Louise Trintignant, playing a magistrate specially brought in to investigate this case and from that point onwards, whole focus shifts on him. I am not sure if I have seen this anywhere else. Film carefully tries to avoid any reference to any particular country or place. We never get the name of any country or city everything is happening. Someone more familiar with Greece may deduce it based on the names mentioned or judiciary and military system in work, if that is a good indicator. I can’t. But if you know certain facts about this movie and the events it portrays, you can certainly see so many hidden clues pointing to the obvious. The events depicted in this movie are based upon the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. Everything about Lambrakis’ background, events that led to this attack, the manner in which it was carried out and the aftermath of this event matches with what we see. Also the fact that Z means 'He Lives' in ancient Greek also points towards Greece. However despite being inflammatory, everything is portrayed with remarkable candour. If you can stand 127 minutes worth of political cat-and-mouse chase, this movie is must for you.
Rating(out of 5):
Taste of Cherry(1997): When I saw Certified Copy(2010), that was the first time I heard of Abbas Kiarostami. Since then I’ve seen his name constantly making rounds through various sources though I never saw any of the movies he did apart from that. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Certified Copy, there were quite a few of his films that interested me. But I never got around to any of them until this weekend when I saw that criterion had Taste of Cherry streaming for free on Hulu, being previous Palme d’Or winner. This was a curious film. In fact, all the three films I saw for this post were curious. Taste of Cherry is about a middle-aged man, Mr. Badii, who has determined that there is nothing in his life worth leaving for and therefore wishes to die. He has already decided how he wants to kill himself; he has even picked up a spot for his own grave. All he needs is someone to bury him after he is dead. In his truck, he drives around the various parts of city in search of someone who is alone so that he won’t go on telling anyone and is willing to help him. This is pretty much what the whole movie is about and majority of it, almost 90%, takes place while he is driving in his truck.
Until last 5 minutes of the film, it doesn’t use any kind of background music. All the sounds we here are natural sounds coming from various things in the surrounding. It can be birds, people talking around or machines running in the vicinity but they are all actual sounds direct from the source. I have only seen a couple of other Iranian films but I’ve noticed the similar trait in them as well which gives it a very different, curious feel. In this case, this complete lack of music helps add to his desperation, his loneliness, his lack of any interest in anything. Desolate landscapes of cement factory only add to this void. It is interesting to realise that as the old man tries to get him to live with his tale of cherries, talking about all the pure, beautiful things in this world worth leaving for, background changes from barren desert to trees and bustling city alleys probably suggesting there is still a faint hope he might change his heart. I have never seen Homayoun Ershadi, playing the lead role of Mr. Badii, in anything else but like Michael Shannon in Take Shelter(2011), he has a natural look on his face that goes long way in convincing us of his problems. I don’t know if all the actors from this movie are trained actors or not but in any case, there is something in their natural disposition that adds a lot to the overall mood of this movie. And then there is that ending; but to tell you the truth it was such a fascinating journey, I was perfectly content with not knowing. I was rather happy to leave it open-ended.
Rating(out of 5):
Paris, Texas(1984): For some reason I was under the impression that this is a time-travel movie. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it wasn’t. I swear I was devastated. Paris, Texas is a very personal story of Travis, a lost man who walked out on his wife and son four years ago. When he first see him, he is somewhere in the middle on Mohave Desert in Texas. He runs out of water and so he goes into a bar nearby. As it turns out, that bar is closed down for some time and he soon collapses out of exhaustion in that bar. When he wakes up, he is in the hospital and doctor informs him that he has already called his brother to let him know about Travis. His brother, Walt, owns a billboard business in L.A. and he, even though surprised to know Travis’ whereabouts after four years, rushes as soon as he can to reach this middle of nowhere. By the time he reaches there, Travis has taken off again but he soon finds him somewhere off the road and they start their journey back home. Travis has stopped talking; he doesn’t eat or sleep at night. Walt tries to break his defenses off one by one and by the time they got back home, he is pretty much back to his old self. With his footing back and Walt and Anne’s, his wife, encouragement, he starts working on getting his life back together that he left four years ago.
Like Taste of Cherry, Paris, Texas is a movie in no hurry to reach anywhere though it does not mean it is an uneventful journey. Couple of times, I even doubted if it meant to go somewhere because I had no idea where can it lead to from that point for a while but Wenders directs this ship masterfully. In many ways, slow pace of this movie allows everything to make its full impact. It allows you to settle down, process everything you see on screen and form your own notions. It allows you to be the part of their world, understand all the characters. Visual beauty of this film also aids us, the viewers, to enter this world. However what impressed me the most is not the visual beauty. It is such a beautiful film, not just in its look but also in its tone, in its feel. There are many very personal but beatific moments in the film like Travis and his son Hunter looking at the old photographs or whole family watching an old super-8 film of the family trip they took before Travis disappeared. However, nothing is as beautiful and sad, as deeply moving as the final conversation between Jane and Travis. It’s his catharsis, his moment to repent for the life he has given to Jane and Hunter. If that doesn’t move you, you might even be made of stone.
Rating(out of 5):