I had the opportunity to watch these diverse works over the last three and a half months. Some are more widely known than others but it’s time to give each storytelling form and cohesive vision espoused by these a fair and equal chance. One of them I finished watching last week .
So here they are, diverse life-scripts committed to screen through eras and covering material spread across decades.
A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA(1982)
While reading about Ingrid Bergman’s filmography, I was fortunate to discover her final work in the form of this four hour, two part CBS television film that saw her valiantly portray the founding mother of modern day Israel Golda Meir.
What an incredibly poignant and robust tale of an individual who left the comforts of her life in America to arrive at a contentious landmark in erstwhile Palestine, to the far reaches of another continent and alien culture, in hopes of uniting the Jewish community at the site of the Promised Land denied to them for millenia.
It was a long cherished dream and to a common mind a distant fantasy. But this incredible visual presentation captures her sturdiness, strides as a political icon and a woman of substance who turned the dream into reality, knowing very well that fractious borders and neighbouring middle Eastern countries can threaten it with civil war anytime. A true statesman, she tided over all of these obstacles and more to make her own way. Hats off to the global community of Jews who gave their blood, sweat and toil to truly honour that overwhelming vision for the Promised Land.
A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA absorbs the mobility of those efforts on the ground with a graceful structure of her biographical trajectory and escapes the time-honoured warp of sexism to show her as her own person who didn’t let gender so much as occupy her passing thoughts. Her thoughts were with her people and the same sense of dignity, temperate humour and above all an obstinacy to achieve statehood for Israel get transported to Ingrid Bergman’s exquisite performance. You never doubt her embodiment of the lady’s temperament and spirit. Also, the parallels between her and Golda are striking in terms of their last years and death by terminal disease. As also by their service to humanity till the very end.
Assembling a diverse crew of able performers including Leonard Nimoy and Judy Davis, shot on location in Israel, scored and cinematographed with the sweep of its history unwavering, this is a true life legend recounted with rare cinematic integrity. Created without sentimental overtures to melodrama. You must watch it, available as it is easily on YouTube. As it employs the narrative technique adjunct with GOLDA’s visit to her school in Wisconsin, the relaying of her personal life to children makes it imperative for posterity.
INTO THE WILD(2007)
This film is uncomplicated and hones its narrative appeal to go into the very soul of youth and adventure, in its recreation of the short, eventful life of Arthur McCandless, a young man exposed to mental abuse, duplicities of society from his earliest years who literally took the road less travelled, by embarking on a solo trip across the breadth of America. All the way shunning conventional societal templates, to escape the cocoon of relationships usually reliant on insincere means and ends even on the part of our families.
In Emile Hirsch’s liberating commitment to his subject’s ideals, we find a boy who is self-dependent and yet never a bitter misanthrope or pessimist, as is evident with the likes of Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart , Vince Vaughn and especially Hal Holbrook, people he encounters and who touch him with layers of human decency, positing the warmth of unlikely bonds and the kindness of strangers.
Actor Sean Penn directs INTO THE WILD as a poem to the senses, to the beating heart of a youthful reawakening that cares for others and finds the open expanse of nature free from diurnal judgements. Watching this collective work is like going back to our roots even though here tragic linings end it on a sombre note. The spirit endures. Perseveres. Flies.
There is nothing abstract about this journey we all tend to internalize to undertake but never really can. Here’s to the man who had nothing to lose. JENA MALONE, MARCIA HARDEN and WILLIAM HURT lend it credible support.
Liz Garbus’ uncompromising eye for unsavoury personal details of her subjects was clear-eyed in the arresting Netflix documentary WHAT HAPPENED,MISS SIMONE? (2015)
In etching out soul/blues legend Nina Simone’s lifetime, a brief snippet of the late singer recounting marital rape, following a moment of jealousy on her abusive husband’s part, drove home the fact that not even our idols ever had it easy, in a patriarchal system meant to put women at the lowest rungs. I know I still shudder at the very thought of that part in the film.
Given her credentials for pure facts unblemished by judgement, Ms.Garbus brings to her homefront of NETFLIX one of this year’s earliest offerings via LOST GIRLS, again captured from truths of a real life case. Amy Ryan brings an unsentimental gravitas here to her role, given her specialty for summoning strength in less than ideal social junctures as in her parts on CHANGELING and GONE BABY GONE.
A working class woman, belonging to a silent little town in New York State, she is a witness, mouthpiece and advocate for the fate of her estranged daughter who goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Gradually, she brings the spotlight to other girls caught in the same undertow of negligence of policing officials and a compromised civic society up against the isolated affluence of a Long Island community concealing facts in its own secretive backyards. It’s powerfully conveyed by way of her fight in freefall where she knows class differences and the easy branding of females as ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ will win at the end of the day. Yet she does her best even as any legitimate form of closure doesn’t come.
LOST GIRLS is etched in our minds by the marshalling of female unity and the need to press more for women’s safety, often represented patronizingly by apathetic male officers. The cast represents mental pathways of those living under a perpetual haze of violence. Ryan’s spirit, holding on to hope of finding her daughter and at the same time breaking apart with the personal weight of her station in life, is to be marveled at, equaling her subject’s concerns. It is work with a rare understanding of the human condition under duress.
Indian cinema’s always productive enfant terrible Anurag Kashyap brought a neon-drenched, drug fuelled ecstasy to his postmodern interpretation of the iconic story DEVDAS, written originally in the 19th century by Sarat Chandra and adapted numerous times on screen before. His is the most potent take on youth riven by circumstantial tragedy and pain where literature’s three iconic leading parts are essentially enfant terrible themselves, each one of them usurped by fate within their milieu and falling deep into the abyss of grit and grime far below their formerly upper-class citadels.
DEV. D knows the socio-political and cultural principles of the Indian north, the familial and interpersonal manipulation by older members of an unit and a latent rebellion that the younger generation unwittingly implodes with, finally leading to a tunnel vision of dreams and reality colliding with hallucinogenic potency . It knows how the linguistic and sexual mores of the youth works and buoyed by definitive visuals and music, this script sets a benchmark for realism, strapping it with pure cinematic aesthetics that doesn’t call undue attention to its own craft; rather it revels in the broken columns of structures, locations, class transcending friendships to create the self-destructive protagonist’s classic saga anew, in the hopeful yet simultaneously pessimistic yoke of today and the everyday.
DEV.D startles us ultimately because it is filled with empathy for these young people thrown to the very deep end of the pool who at least possess the courage to wade through their current situations than their older guardians. It is a complete, incisive look at the India we know and recognise all too readily, reckless, selfish, worthy of great care and companionship even amidst emotional meltdowns and sinful precedents. The editing is pure nirvana for those seeking its core of loneliness and good intentions marred by a culture of repression.
SPECIAL MENTION- TIGER KING: MURDER, MAYHEM AND MADNESS (2020)
This smash-hit documentary series has been devoured by anyone clued into popular culture’s renewed visibility in our current climate. But what starts out as an unlikely coupling of man and wild takes darker and twisted turns, like a Shakespearean intrigue gone rogue with redneck sensibilities and moral ambiguity, plumbing at the very depth of human resources. A battle of the sexes and a glaring look at personal equations, rivalries, it leaves us numb. It’s like an inverted mob saga and a multilayered murder mystery that’s firmly in the realm of flesh and blood personages who still blatantly live to tell their side of events.
Watch it to know that truth indeed is stranger and ten times more devious than plain fiction. This documentary series also blatantly confirms that humans are the real beasts .