The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!
For Delhi, it was a pleasant and a very pleasant relief from the baking heat that the city had been subjected to by the weather gods for the last one week or so. The drizzly storm that brew up at around noon grew into a cool,rainy and a windy evening. Alone at home, I was in no mood to read or write, cook or eat. After the evening news debates that I am these days quite addicted to, I had some light dinner and sat down to watch the Dallas Buyer’s Club. Had read and heard about the film and owing to its HIV and medicine related focus, I was not very keen on watching it. Just that science and medicine do not really interest me as much. I however, did play the film and was soon engrossed into the plot. Matthew McConaughey’s magnificent performance impressed me no end and frankly speaking, was taken aback by the sheer brilliance of the dialogues, characters, the landscape and the overall imagination of the director. What makes the film special is the uninhibited force with which it exposes the insecurities and looming anxieties of AIDS patients. I appreciated the film more for its political incorrectness and its poignant appraisal of a development in the field of medicine and science as it would have unfolded decades ago. If you haven’t seen this film, rest assured, you have missed out on one of the best ever performances in Hollywood cinema.
Done with the film, I dozed off for a while to dream of my address to a group of three very good looking Muslim men seated on a charpoy. Dressed impeccably in well fitting black suits and with trimmed beards, they listened attentively to my lecture on the beauty of spaces and places. I remember telling them “It’s hard for me to believe that people do not like certain places. How can they not? Aren’t all places beautiful? Pakistan for instance- although I have never been there- surely must be as beautiful a place as any other in the world- with its markets and its people.” I remember mentioning Mecca as well and the listeners nodding their head in strong approval. I recall telling them about Genet and about how spaces as undesired as prisons have been spots where the best of autobiographies, political literature and the fondest of letters have been written. In the dream, I realised that the listeners did not tire of my unending trite talk and a confusion about the reason behind their continued interest woke me up.
Checked my clock to see that it was 1:25 a.m. and there was no power. That meant I had missed the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. It was not long that I waited for it, and the power was restored by 1:50 and I quickly switched on the TV and saw that Brazil had scored a self goal, Neymar had already been shown a yellow card and Croatia was not as weak in front of the great team as I had taken them to be. Watched the rest of the match sipping coffee and occasionally falling back on the possible meaning that the dream could have. The last twenty minutes of the match were captivating and the goal by Oscar in the extra time was delightful. After the match got over, I went off to sleep again and had another vivid dream about which I shall talk about sometime later. Do share what you think the dream might mean. I would be interested in hearing from you. The morning right now is cool, windy, drizzly and pleasant to say the least. What was last night for you like?
Needless to say that I am a huge movie buff and enjoy watching all kinds of films. This year was a great year on many accounts about which I will be writing about in later posts. To start this series I have chosen to mention the following ten films which I just appreciated so much that I would love to watch them again and again. Such films I felt, are a definite reminder of the amount of talent a team needs to possess in order to be able to deliver something which ultimately appears to be as marvelous as these.
1. Sunset Boulevard
Sitting huddled together on a breezy summer evening; I saw this film on my PC with close friends Lenin, Vikrant and Awanish. Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, the forgotten star from the silent-movie days and William Holden as Joe Gillis, the struggling script writer, represent the two extreme aspects of the film industry- one, which salutes just the rising sun forgetting everything that is no more in vogue and the other glamorous side of it that holds immense attractions for those who aspire to be a part of it. The film takes the viewer to the Paramount studios and provides with a small but close and sensitive account of the forms of sociability prevalent therein. Swanson undoubtedly dominates the film with the accurate facial expressions every time. It is a sort of accuracy, I confess that I had never seen before.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
I watched this very famous film after it was mentioned by my Professor in one of the lectures where she was talking about Erving Goffman’s classic monograph on the Asylums. Watching the film which is studded with a great performance by Jack Nicholson (of course!), I did realise the impact the novel and the film together must have had in shaping the anti-institutionalization discourse in the west. Louis Fletcher was however someone who was the most surprising in her role as the unyielding nurse. Hers was a mind blowing performance. I watched the film alone and was forced to repeatedly say this to myself “Wow!”
This was the last Hitchcock film I saw this year. What made the film brilliant for me was its acutely sensitive portrayal of the intimidating aspects of aristocracy as they are experienced by an orphaned young girl who marries a widower apparently still in love with his ex wife Rebecca. The lady who ‘hires’ this girl as a companion warns her of the consequences of marrying the rich, elite man and vanishes from the plot. The viewer is then taken to witness the anxieties that the new Mrs. de Winter faces while being in company of the servants attending to Manderley- the palatial countryside mansion. Mrs Danver took the lion’s share of all my appreciation for this amazing thriller.
4. The Untouchables
It was a film that I saw for the nth time again with Lenin, Vikrant and Awanish. Needless to say, we were all once again in awe of the magic that Sean Connery, Kevin Kostner and Andy Garcia created on screen. Robert de Niro as Al Capone mesmerised us all. After the film we actually went on to name each other after the characters of the film. I was Elliot Ness, Vikrant was named Stone, Lenin Capone and Awanish Malone! Definitely one of the best films I have seen till date. Wardrobe by Giorgio Armani added that extra charm to the entire impact the film continues to have on all of us! Can never forget Kevin Kostner’s order to Garcia “You Got Him?…..TAKE HIM”
5. Mr. Brooks
Another of Kevin Kostner’s masterpiece as an accomplished and talented actor. The film gradually grew on me and it wasn’t long when I was convinced of its amazing plot and narrative style. The detour through a personality infested with an obsessive compulsion to commit murders was thoroughly fascinating and made for an exciting watch. Till date this one is the only Demi Moore film I have seen. She seemed extremely impressive here.
6. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
This marvelous film introduced me to the genius that Humphrey Bogart is. The influence that gold is capable of exercising on the human soul forms the backdrop of the intricate storyline that revolves around three men who go digging for gold. Intensely psychological in its portrayal of the forms of relationship which grows among these men, the film has had a huge impact on the way I have come to look for the importance of meaningful dialogues in cinema.
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
Extremely tempted to include Bogart’s Casablanca in the list as well. Hope one of his should suffice here!
7. The Heiress
This is one of the most magnificent romantic dramas I have ever seen. One of my most favorite actors, Montgomery Clift and Olivia da Havilland spin together this lovely tale of love and betrayal. As Morris Townsend, Clift delivers the best of his talent and for sure, I have no words for da Havilland’s acting prowess. Unforgettable line for me from the film was “She dominated the colour”. This was one film whose camerawork is likely to remain deeply etched in my memory. It is also a film with that quintessential dramatic ending- a scene worth watching.
8. 400 Blows
Truffaut’s masterpiece. I dont think anything from my side is needed to be said about this one. A beautiful film!
9. The Message
The challenging task of making a film on the life of the Prophet Muhammad seems beautifully accomplished by Moustapha Akkad. An extremely accurate and sensitive document, this film I feel should be seen by anyone who is interested in Islam. I plan to watch Lion of the Desert, another of Akkad’s masterpieces in the coming week.
10. Women In Love
What a wonderful adaptation of D H Lawrence’s masterpiece this one was! I really cannot decide if I liked the novel or the film more. Plan to watch more of Oliver Reed’s films as and when I get time. Rupert, when asked as to what does he really want says “I want to sit with my beloved in a field with daisies growing all around us”
Suggestions for good films that I should watch in the coming year are most welcome 🙂