Sunday, June 20, 2010

American History X

There's a moment early in the film where Derek (Edward Norton) ) has just mercilessly slaughtered two blacks, for having vandalized his car. And the police have surrounded him, and he has his hands behind the back of his head. And then he rises like a demi-God, a smirk on his face, with tattoos of a Swastika and barbed wires on his bare body. 

Danny, his younger brother, is looking on in fright, shock and awe. Derek looks at him in absolute triumph and then winks at him. The deed is done. And the police and the incarceration are just small prices to pay. And Derek, in the most subtle of pass-throughs, had just given his legacy of hatred and intolerance to his younger brother. 

On the face of it, American History X  is a seething document on racial discrimination. But deep inside, the film is about the origins of evil, and the influence which family has on us. 

We start our lives with clean slates, our hearts and minds eager to learn, ripe to be influenced. And the seeds of prejudice often come on the dining table: one comment of discrimination, and a mind could be warped forever. After things spin out of control, it becomes easy for Derek's father to tell his separated wife: "Doris, you don't know the world your children are living in." For he wouldn't remember how he himself had sown the seeds, which had now come into a full flowering of prejudice and hatred. 

The film moves between past (shot in stunning black and white) and present, as Danny writes a punishment-paper of "historical relevance" – his brother Derek's history. 

The film's set-pieces delve deeper and deeper into the origin of our true beings. The family discussion around the dining table is heart-stopping in its intensity. Derek is insistent how incidents of black-white disputes are being explained away and marginalized, as if "its not a riot, its rage; its not crime, its poverty."

Ironically, Derek than manhandles his sister, Devina, who doesn't like what he says, and a line is crossed. His mother tells him "I am ashamed that you came out of my body." And she asks him to leave the house.

The man-slaughter thereafter becomes just an extension of Derek's frustration and anger. 

But life changes people, just as they are influenced with people they accept in their lives. In the jail, it requires an innocent black partner to have Derek see what goodness can do. And a bunch of his earlier avatars to see the forms evil can take. And he understands what his mother meant when she comes to visit him at jail and says "You think you are the only one doing time?"

Derek is a changed man when he comes out of the jail. Even as he starts to negate his past, his past relationships, and draws closer to the family he had always treated with scorn, the past refuses to let go of him.

Family can mean a lot, indeed. When he starts to bond with Danny and seeks to pull his brother out of the mess he was getting into, both of them take down every remnant of their past from the walls, which they did not want as intrusions in their futures. 

But there was a circle of pain to be completed. Nature finishes a task, one way or the other. Tragedy falls, but in ways which are both stunning and heart-rending.

Danny, in his history and testament, says this, to close his essay: "Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it." He quotes Abraham Lincoln: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

As this remarkable film shows, its a sentiment easier said than done.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Three Colours Red

Red is for love, passion, anger: emotions which connect people. But more than anything else, red is about warmth, which makes life livable, lovable.

"Three colours Red" is all about life, and its strange coincidental connections. And how a turn in a road leads to an amazing turn in one's life.

Valentine is a model who has a jealous boyfriend gone out of town. All she wants is "a life of peace and quiet" as she waits for him, and wears his jacket to sleep, to feel him near her. One night, as she runs over a dog, and meets Kern, the owner, to return the creature, life takes a turn. She finds Kern to be an eavesdropper of the telephone conversations of his neighbours.

Connections are found, connections are built. Pity is construed, disgust is found.

And when out of the turpitude, there arises honesty, there is also the strength of innocence which springs forth.

Valentine passes through hell when her life suddenly goes into an alley she doesn't understand, and what she stood for starts to unravel.

Valentine and Kerns, two strangers, alone, slightly adrift, find meaning, where none seem to exist.

When Valentine puts her palm over Kerns', on either side of a car window, she acknowledges how we seek - and find - intimacy and redemption in mysterious ways.

"Three colours Red" is an autumnal film of discovery. Of an old man who remembers an old love in an innocent girl and ruefully tells her "maybe you were the woman I never met". Its about a young woman who knows "something important" is happening to her, but she doesn't know what it is , and "is afraid." Its director Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski's last film and his final golden testament to the mystery of relationships.

Against a background score which is sepulchral and haunting, the film is awash in warm earthly tones found in the leaves on the ground, as a setting sun's refracted slant, as a studio's red glow, as a dance class' chrome.

But above all this, is Irene Jacob's fragile presence as Valentine. Her face is a universe of emotions and her smile lights up lives. She gives this film of discovery, and rediscovery, a meaning and feeling which last far beyond the ordinary.

~ Sunil Bhandari
June 7th, 2010.
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The Two Jakes

Jake Gittes is a successful private detective. He has seen it all. He is cynical about life, sardonic about relationships: he is also insightful and sensitive. Corruption surrounds the world he inhabits, but, miraculously, it has not completely corroded his soul. As he says "In a town of lepers, I am the one with the most fingers."

And that, in this world, is both his strength and his Achilles Heel.

And this multi-layered man makes The Two Jakes a film-noir thriller with more than a mere thrill.

What seems like an open-and-shut case of marital infidelity and rage-murder, suddenly starts getting complex when a recording of the conversations of the adulterous wife and murdered man reveal a name which is right out of the tortured past of our detective Jake. Suddenly, there opens up a mystery - and an old wound.

As Jake delves in deeper, the reasons and the stakes turn out to be murkier. As Jake says, with irrepressible profundity: "Nine times out of ten, if you follow the money you will get to the truth."

But the greater mystery involves Jake's past: "You can't forget the past, anymore than you can change it." And as much as he let's his loins dictate what he does ("Put your ass up in the air: I am trying to be a gentleman here"), he gives in to the debilitating effect of remembrance ("Memories are like that: as unpredictable as nitro. You never know what will set them up.")

In the end, the thriller comes out with a trill of the heart. Rogues are secret heroes and self-annihilation is ultimately a noble sacrifice.

Complex, though languorous; intricately plotted, though sometimes overwrought; atmospheric, though under-directed at times; lush and beautifully scored, one cannot go wrong with a film where the adulterous woman totally refutes being an accomplice in premeditated murder by saying "I was honestly unfaithful".

~ Sunil Bhandari
June 9th, 2010
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