I was recently requested by a site to list films I have loved in the last few years. It was a great exercise to prepare it. I felt dually obliged - to list five films that I consider masterpieces, for those who are not yet familiar with the work of Tarr or Haneke; and to make a list of five lesser known first or second features that are truly powerful pieces of cinema. With the exception of Kusturica's film, all the others on the list are films released in the last few years.
With all this thought put into it, I was shocked to see a disrespectfully edited and brainlessly truncated version on some sponsor's website! That is why I decided to share the complete piece on my blog -
Du Levande (You, the Living)
50 hyperreal and urbsurd (urban absurdity, a word coined by Khushboo Ranka to catalogue the specific genre of surreal ironies manifesting in urban settings) vignettes seem to traverse a range of human misery, from alienation to apocalypse, and still manage to leave you with a sense of wonder (and even joy). The coldness of the fourth wall is reinstated in every frame, distancing the audience from the mirror to their desires, anxieties, insecurities and epiphanies. The cast of non-actors are studied pathologically in a sort of a human zoo. Every frame is a stunning piece of art, with a colour palette that can be described only as edible or dreamable, held together by the zombie like pale make-up worn by the actors.
The Turin Horse
Bela Tarr & Ignes Hranitzky
If nightmares are our mind's way of preparing itself for eventualities, this one prepares us for the worst - the end of the world, the suspicion that daily rigmarole is indeed absent of purpose, and the realisation of the complete absence of meaning. The tragedy of day to day existence is the other side of the inch by inch destruction of the world. From the haunting images by Fred Kelemen to the hypnotic score by master composer Vig Mihaly, the genius of Tarr and Hranitzky is in setting up the right triggers for every member of the audience to have their own personal enlightenment. If there is such a thing as a peaceful, soothing death, Bela Tarr's masterpiece is an insight into what that might be like. (At the risk of committing blasphemy, may I suggest that you hold a loved one's hand, as you walk on this edge of the world).
This is one loud drunken Balkan stupor; baroque, gaudy, insane, epic, plenitudinous, layered with vodka wisdom and plum rakija insights into all things primitive - love, betrayal and war; produced by a country that exists no longer, directed by the super brat of Eastern European cinema. It is a celebration of devastation, a distilled (to some, reduced) polemic absent of political chicanery, a panegyric for innocence and longing. This is grandeur upgraded, it's Fellini ver. 2.
The White Ribbon
The American polemist Sam Harris, in his bullet thesis arguing the impossibility of free will, draws upon an episode of mindless cruelty to penetrate into the nature of choice and action, and the forces that guide them. It doesn't seem like a coincidence that Haneke chose a very similar episode in Funny Games to deconstruct the triggers in our environment that compel us to choose the course of action we take. From The Seventh Continent to The White Ribbon, the subject of Haneke's very disturbing constructs of violence, guilt, evil, fascism, conformity, and fanaticism, is indeed the suspicion of the absence of free will. With clinical observation and organised spontaneity, Haneke constructs a psycho-socio-political Rube Goldberg machine that has been set to motion by forces beyond the individual capacities of his characters, and will inevitably lead to consequences that are now a part of our shameful past. Haneke, while seemingly cold and punitive, is also an author of great empathy and redeeming power.
"All art aspires to a condition of music." - Walter Pater
In that, Holy Motors achieves the state of Baroque music. It is a thoroughly engaging, surprising, ecstatic, tragic, playful and self reflexive magic trick, constantly playing on your expectations from the real and the imagined. It invites you to participate in solving a complex puzzle, only to realise that the scope of the puzzle is far beyond the riddles presented by Carax and his namesake character (Leos Carax is Le Oscar ax). This film is a field day for a neuroscientist, especially a neuro-aestheticist. Wonder occurs when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and in that, Holy Motors is also truly wonderful.
Surreal, grotesque and incredibly inventive, Taxidermia is a bizarre tale of the limits of the human body, a rich allegory of post war Hungary, and a stunning visual experience that is also an endurance test.
Dogtooth gives us a glimpse of a new way of looking, while challenging (if not shattering) our long held beliefs of filial obedience, compliance and sanctity. It's a social satire with two perfectly delivered experiences - suspense and wonder.
My favourite Indian film this year is a richly detailed portrait of Sampat Pal, the founder of the courageous women rights organisation Gulabi Gang, a document of their struggles against rural Indian caste politics and corruption, and a re-invention of the detective genre.
The Act of Killing
A human experiment in continuum with the infamous Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram experiment, only far more complex (and certainly not unethical). This film might well be the beginning of a long pending trial.
Three people walked into a bar. Not a joke, but what a yarn! Old women in a village mourn the death of a young woman, their livelihood depended on her. It involved chewing bread into wet spongy paste, with their teethless gums, that she would use to make dolls. Was she one of the discarded clonal twin? (An indescribable film clearly - let's watch it as we anticipate the director's epic human experiment "Dau").