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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tell No One



France has always been known for its compelling and innovative film tradition. Most of the modern cinematic movements were born in France. French movies never fail to engage me; be it a drama or a thriller or a horror movie, they always carry that extra dynamism in it which satiates the craving that the audience feels within. Tell No One has been branded as one of the most gripping and fascinating French thriller movies in the recent years. Directed by Guillaume Canet, who is known for his roles in movies like Love Me if You Dare (one of my all-time favourtites), The Beach, The Last Flight, Tell No One keeps the audience enthralled with its sharp twists and turns in the tale.


The film begins in the most languid way possible. It starts with a group of friends gathered together in a summer cabin in the woods, enjoying wine and weed and mindless babble in general. Among those gathered are Alex (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie Josee Croze), Alex’s sister Anne (Marina Hands), her partner Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas) and a few of their other friends. Lazing away your time in the summer is the ideal thing to do, if you happen to own a secluded cabin in the woods. Alex and Margot do exactly that and goes skinny dipping in the nearby lake, reminiscing their childhood days. But all good things must come to an end. The couple has an argument and Margot swims ashore alone, leaving behind Alex, a little bewildered on the small raft in the middle of the lake. Alex hears a muffled scream and he too hurries back ashore, only to be greeted by a blow on the head which renders him unconscious and lands him in a coma for three days.

Fast forward to eight years, Alex is still mourning his wife, while practicing as a paediatrician at a Paris hospital. When two bodies are discovered near the same lake where Alex and Margot had gone swimming eight years ago, the past he had refused to bury reaches out to him. Alex becomes the obvious suspect to his wife’s killing and the police begin persecuting him. In the meantime he begins to receive anonymous e-mails which lead him suspect that Margot may not be dead. In his bid to uncover the mystery of his wife’s murder he becomes a target for both the police and a hired gang who want to keep the secret buried at all costs.

There is a particularly thrilling chase sequence through the city. It takes Alex through Clignancourt, the labyrinth of the antiques market and finally onto the mean streets of Paris where he seeks out help from an unlikely source. It is a marvelously photographed scene, taking the audience too for a run around the streets of the French capital. 

Tell No One revels to the audience each clue to the mystery patiently, without making the audience groan with impatience. Canet blends the movie with flashbacks and the real time events seamlessly when explaining the mystery. The movie takes you for a well-paced journey, whose destination is not disappointing at all; it is deeply satisfying and logical.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blue Ruin



If Only God Forgives fails to make you empathise with its revenge saga, Blue Ruin definitely tugs at your heart with its nerve-wrecking, visceral tale of revenge. Blue Ruin demands some time from the viewers to settle down to, with its slow and ambiguous narration at the start. But what works for it is the curiosity that it manages to build up within the audience. Director and scriptwriter Jeremy Saulnier feeds the audience just enough information for them to participate in the story.


The movie opens with a hairy, bearded, homeless man played by Macon Blair who lives out of a rusted blue Pontiac. He sneaks into people’s houses to take a shower and digs through the carnival waste bins for food. He has his trusted Pontiac parked at the edge of town, near the beach, away from prying eyes. Blair has no lines almost for the first ten minutes of the movie. But the story starts rolling when he is taken in by the police, not because he is in trouble but because he needs to be informed about a recent incident. The audience is then informed “He will be released” and we are privy to a news headline stating that a double murder conviction has been overturned. Blair’s character is Dwight Evans and the audience gets a vague idea about his past. There is no further explanation as Dwight gets back to his car and packs up leaves in his Pontiac. 

Dwight is then seen following the recently released man, Wade Cleland from prison, who we later learn had killed his parents. This disheveled, ragged, homeless, drifter, who shuffles along is now determined to extract vengeance on behalf of his family. He becomes a man with a purpose in his life. It is shocking to see how this mild mannered anti-hero steels himself to annihilate his parents’ killer. His planning goes awry and he is forced to improvise. The killing is a messy scenario and Wade’s murder is both grotesque and bloody for a number of reasons. Realizing the fatal mistake of taking on the entire Cleland clan, Dwight breaks into another house, treats his wounds, cleans up, shaves and looks like the quiet next door neighbor in his borrowed blue shirt and tan slacks. Dwight is a dubious avenger, ill-equipped to face the situation which makes Blue Ruin a far more suspenseful movie than the archetypal revenge-violence movie. 

Blue Ruin spills quite a lot of blood; there are bullets flying and knives cutting and is both gory and graphic. Yet Saulnier does just enough like a responsible craftsman to make it seem real, without making it look like a blood fest. Blair embodies fright, his eyes are riveted with fear, fear for both his life and his family’s. But his sad brown eyes aren’t the least bit comical, it tells you about real emotions, about his confusions, his doubts, his hesitations. 

Blue Ruin is an intelligent thriller which tries to re-define the concept of revenge movie by providing the audience a sequence of alternating scenes of method and violence.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Only God Forgives



Only God Forgives is a visually stylistic and flamboyant film, but fails deplorably with its plot and narrative. With its blinding and extravagant use of neon colours, and a haunting anticipatory soundtrack, Only God Forgives fails to make the audience participate. The movie fails on all counts to satiate the emotional needs of a revenge tale; there is no scope for empathy for the viewers.  

Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn makes Only God Forgives about Julian’s, played by Ryan Gosling private purgatory. As an expatriate from the US, Julian and his brother Billy, operates a shady Muay Thai boxing club in Bangkok. The boxing club is however a side business and the real money comes from drug trade. Julian is the broody and the introspective anti-hero of the movie while Billy is exactly the opposite. His fantasies of rough sex with underage girls get him killed. Thus enters Lieutenant Chang, a police officer with a God complex, who hands Billy over to the father of the underage prostitute he raped and killed. It almost seems that Chang is a supernatural being. Most of the scenes in the movie are at night, which heightens its surrealism and allows Refn to indulge plentifully in the neon. The scenes are bathed in red and blue, acting complimentary to each other instead of being opposites. 

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Crystal, the mafia matriarch, who flies down to identify the body of her “first born.” She takes us back to the Shakespearean tragedies of Hamlet and Macbeth, possessing the same ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth while making use of the same oedipal attraction that Julian feels for Crystal which Hamlet felt for Gertrude asking him to protect her from any impending danger. The sexual innuendos are not subtle between mother and son, especially when Crystal buries her face in Julian’s navel and then later orders him to kiss his mother. She begins by seducing him, then belittling his manhood and finally tries to destroy him.

 Ryan Gosling as Julian is the perfect Hamlet to Crystal’s Gertrude. He bears all the admonitions and depreciating with almost graceful impassiveness, while trying to make her proud by fighting Lieutenant Chang, who almost beats Julian to a pulp. Gosling has only seventeen lines in the movie; he is the near silent anti-hero of the movie, who spins a surrealist yarn in his subconscious with Chang in it, while trying to cope with his psychopathic and dysfunctional family. There is a particular stoicism in Gosling that is unparalleled. 

Only God Forgives moves at a very slow pace, it almost glides; interlaced with awkward silences and blank stares in the black void, the movie switches between Julian’s reality and dream world. The movie is thoroughly packaged with a wonderful soundtrack and stunningly alluring visuals, but in the core is nothing but hollow.

Monday, October 27, 2014

We Were Family



It was going to be two years in two months. But the period came unexpectedly, cutting short the sentence tersely. The axe dropped a few days before Diwali. You think to yourself, the timing is lousy. But in business people are always taught to keep feelings at bay. Never let the heart rule your head. It is very easy for everyone who is standing at the bay to say that, not for us who are struggling to swim upstream against the current to reach the safety of the bay.

This was my first company; I was a fresh faced graduate, all rosy cheeked and everything, ready to take on the notorious corporate world. I spent the first year mostly as an intern who was just paid a little better than actual interns. I had lots to learn, especially since this wasn’t my field. When I got to my second year, I started to get a little comfortable. I thought to myself “Hey, I could see myself settling down,” and just when I was about to put my feet up on my table, out came the big, bad wolf in the guise of a merger.   

The news came on a Thursday afternoon, when all of us were busy at our work stations while eagerly waiting for the financial results of the previous quarter. At four pm, came the financial results; our net profit growth stood at 30% q-o-q. We cheered and clapped and patted each other on the back and shook hands, it was a good one indeed. Then at four thirty came the news of the merger. The hugs, claps, and cheering froze; everyone stood still, not daring to move, not even daring to breathe. We didn’t want to believe it, but it was true. The stock market said it was true and the stock market never lies. We had huddled around a desk to celebrate; we slowly dispersed and went back to our own desks. I went back to my computer with a stony, impassive face, trying very hard to keep my emotions at bay and not let the lump in my throat turn into a croak and then an eventual sob. I kept telling myself, “These things are natural and they happen, nothing out of the ordinary. You have been here lesser than two years, think about all those people who have been here for twenty years, think how emotional it is going to be for them?!” But rationality at such times is not always easy to muster. After a while, I locked myself in a bathroom cubicle and sobbed for twenty minutes; they were silent sobs, I didn’t want to attract any attention and I muffled them as best as I could. 

You may wonder why the emotions at all, was I faking it? Well, honestly I don’t know. I always thought of myself as one of those people who did not let the heart get the best out of your head. I don’t like the feeling of getting attached, it somehow makes me feel vulnerable and open, giving people an excuse to hurt me. I hadn’t expected to be hurt by this piece of news, but this just shows how little control we actually have over our feelings. 

We celebrated Diwali the next week; everyone got together and participated in the festivities. Everyone knew this was going to be our last Diwali, together as one big family. After almost 38 years of existence, we will cease to exist come next April. It was a great journey, the last two years and I count myself among the lucky ones to have been a part of this remarkable, helpful, zealous, inspiring family.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Thank You Letter to a Stranger



Dear Stranger,
Sometimes it just helps to know that there is someone out there who cares; even though it is a total stranger. Like yourself. 


I was having difficulty in explaining to the man at the ticket counter where I wanted to go. I did not speak the local language, and my gestures and sign language only further exasperated the ticket guy. The crowd behind me was getting impatient and fidgety. And then the ticket guy lost it. He let loose a string of anger ridden words in a language that I don’t understand; I was close to tears. And then you stepped in. You had been privy to the futile conversation that I was having with him. You were standing behind me in the queue and came to my aid. Your voice was firm and determined and the guy simmered down. I was having trouble holding back my tears. You turned to me, touched my arm and smiled, asked if I wanted some water. I smiled weakly, and nodded yes. You gave me your bottle and then began explaining the situation I had gotten myself into. 

As someone who was new to the city, I now think in retrospect that I should have done my homework better before embarking on the journey. You told me that all the buses were pre-booked because it was an extended weekend, and everyone wanted their share of leisure and bliss. The only option left was the bus which left at eight in the evening. I remember nodding my head to everything that you said, while silently admonishing myself and thinking that it was a vain attempt on my part to try and continue with the trip. Eight o’ clock was still three hours away and I was stuck in the middle of a hostile crowd, with a rucksack on my back, which sonorously screamed the word – ALIEN.   

With a legion of convoluted thoughts running around in my head, I suddenly realized that you had stopped talking and were now scrutinizing my eyes intently. As I looked up, you gave me big, warm, encouraging smile; I felt a little better. It assured me, gave me fortitude. When I told you where I was planning to go, you grinned at me and disclosed that we shared the same destination; from then onwards you took me under your wing. You coaxed and cajoled and then bargained with the man at the ticket counter and successfully obtained two tickets. You helped me with my luggage in the overhead cabin and suggested that I take the window seat. With a wink you added, “Just in case you feel sick going up the mountains.” After settling down beside me, you didn’t burst into a rambling conversation, probably because you gauged my reticent side. You made minor observations from time to time; you lamented how I won’t be able to see the grand view of the valley since it was dark outside. You put me at ease, being perfectly conscious of the fact that I was traveling alone and would reach in the middle of the night to a place where I had never set foot before. 

When we stopped midway for a fifteen minute break, you insisted on buying me coffee. Even though I am not a caffeine person, I savored the coffee because it was a wet, chilly night. I finally cracked my shell and told you a little about myself. I told you that I was a modern day drifter; yes, I do have a job, but I usually have the convenience of working from home. That allowed me frequent and regular breaks, so that I could pursue my passion of travel. I told you that I was visiting a few friends who had just moved there and knowing about my zealous enthusiasm of travel, they had invited me to stay with them. I think I dozed off for a few minutes, but I could sense your watchful gaze over me, even in my slumber. I felt your hand gently shaking my shoulder, urging me to wake up as we neared our stop. It was a quarter past twelve at night when we got off and there weren’t a lot many people at the bus station. You helped me with my luggage, taking it out gently, as if it was a baby carrycot. I took out my phone to call my friend, but my phone was dead. You readily offered me yours, but before I could make the call, I heard my name. I turned around to see my friend walking towards me. I turned back, gave your phone back and smiled. You smiled back and we held our gaze for a few seconds. You extended your hand and I shook it. You wished me a pleasant stay and walked off, perhaps forever out of my life into the darkness. 

I don’t know your name, we hadn’t exchanged names. Or numbers. Or addresses. The chances of us meeting again is extremely remote and improbable; we live in an insomniac and athletic world, where a multitude of people like us move every single day, with their bags, and larger than life dreams. But I want you know that I will be eternally grateful to you. Sometimes all it needs is the will to care, the rest just works its way. The possibilities are infinite and I believe in our future, our world, the people, us, you and me, I believe in them all.  I end by saying a simple thank you.

Love,
The Stranger You Saved at the Ticket Counter