OF TROUBLED INNER LIVES
These are feature films that took their inspirations from the troubled inner core of lives. Social and personal aspects intertwine in all the titles, affecting viewpoints and taking emotional precedence in their lingering composite whole.
THE LIFE AHEAD
This was the first opportunity I received in watching veritable screen legend Sophia Loren lead a screenplay; the fact that THE LIFE AHEAD is written for her and directed by her son Edoardo Ponti makes it personal and heart-warming.
As Madame Rosa, a former Holocaust survivor and now retired lady of the night, she gets to play someone her own age, positioning the vagaries of time on a life on the fringes. By acting as dedicated caretaker to children hailing from a similar situation, she evinces her humane responsibility. This film is pretty straightforward in its journey of loss and love. The background of its personages is never reiterated or made to stay as a moral centre because their present status is all that matters, the personal equations somehow making Rosa and orphan Momo( Ibrahima Gueye) equals in their identities as essentially refugees holding on to the final vestiges of memory, their common striving for a lost childhood and less than ideal realities unifying them with others in their orbit.
THE LIFE AHEAD very quietly, and with some unique manner of agency, maps the bonds among the leads and few supporting members, to show us that there is indeed a light that guides us through passages of grave darkness. It is brave, poignant in how it confronts the inner workings of these lives.
THE CROWN SEASON 4
The fourth season of THE CROWN brought us closer to the era in which a re-evaluation of royalty and hegemonic institutions of yore defined public discourse. As a person belonging to a country that had been occupied under the crown for two hundred years, this inside look at the mentalities and unsparing class consciousness of the titular outfit is not unlike any other social matrix where the idea of privilege is all-encompassing and refuses to die down with the passage of time or evolution of societal structures. Writer Peter Morgan takes a deep dive into how the retinue of people associated with Queen Elizabeth ( Olivia Colman) have become the greatest casualty to common sense or national interest, living in their moth-balled utopia of palaces and castles, private holidays and sports, largely caught in their own trap of invincibility and by extension cold cruelty. It doesn’t help that the public simultaneously rebukes and yet largely celebrates their curdled halo because it has been dictated by centuries worth of tradition.
That inner network is brought upon to bear on the innocence and life-affirming hope of Princess Diana ( an excellent Emma Corrin); with precision of body language and emotional articulation, Corrin embodies the stifling pain and parallel helpings of individual strength that overturned conventions and made her endear to generations. In my opinion, her performance as Lady Diana should stand the test of time for being so true to the polarities of her world and the unraveling of a young life that saw and experienced way more than any average person.
This season also steeled itself for another reflexive bout of redefining the conventional structures of its premise, courtesy Gillian Anderson’s peak form as British premier Margaret Thatcher, a powerhouse of decisiveness and authority buckling under no pressures of gender conformity or expectations of deifying royal decrees.
For me, the most intense images were of the deer hunted by royal associates and later put up for display in the dining room, symbolizing the similar fate awaiting the future princess and befalling her tragic lifetime.
Together, Emma and Gillian held reins of a story charting human hubris and the progress of history in the modern world.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR?(2018)
Thank God that a man like Fred Rogers lived to see his days in our world. After watching Morgan Neville’s miracle of a documentary on his life and times, I came to know why this fact based form of filmmaking is having a field day in our era. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR? captured perfectly the rhythms of a life with no hubris or ego, the worldviews of innocence and preserving childhood’s enduring legacy hence reaching those in dire need of knowing about the television pioneer who gave multiple generations homilies, lessons on human decency and dared to integrate prickly social issues with his quintessential sanguine approach.
I have seen Mr. Rogers on the screen for the first time few days ago and his Zen like composure and irrepressible smile conveyed worlds of the same innocence and purity of purpose he passed on to kids around the world for nearly forty years. His concepts, use of puppetry, belief in his 123 formula, composition and lyrics and voice work made him a juggler of multiple worlds ; Neville creates a one and a half hour portrait of an artist and an Everyman who we need at a crucial juncture of our society where patriarchy and ‘wise old man ways’ funelled by toxicity have stayed on course to upend all efforts at integration.
This documentary settles for the truth and an individual who only served good words, deeds and thoughts without expecting anything in return other than a better and inclusive world, especially for our children, our true bedrocks for posterity. It holds a poignancy for that lost cause and its subject’s uncompromising vision.
Watching Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA few months after AUTUMN SONATA convinced me of the master director’s character studies of personalities under emotional duress. In the latter, it was a filial tug of war informed by memories of a contentious past, a subtle yet greatly penetrative look at a mother and daughter bond that didn’t shy away from showing human flaws, especially on the part of the parent. It left us with opposing strands of thought just like the ones we have to negotiate through our own familial relationships for a whole lifetime.
PERSONA is similarly penetrative. Its thrust is on human psychology and by opening the film with imagery that includes dead bodies in a morgue, a boy clearing the foggy pictures of the leads and even an insect, it makes it clear by design perhaps that we are here to dissect the unpredictable terrain of the mind. Then putting the tale of a nurse employed to take care of a celebrated actress who has suddenly chosen to go mute gives PERSONA a body of interrogation that accommodates multitudes. It begins with interpersonal bonhomie where LIV ULLMAN becomes the absorber and BIBI ANDERSSON the confessor and the absence of speech leads to the latter opening her heart and sharing unsavoury secrets with the other stranger. Somewhere down the line, the boundaries of a case study envelop the vulnerable nurse in a maelstrom of doubt and anger as also apologetic behaviour owing to the very perceptible class consciousness between both. Serenity slowly begets mind games and erotic dream visions, eventually uniting both personas in one.
By the end, it boggles our minds to sift the truth from the multitude. The act of embodiment, role playing and the lines that blur in the process likens it to the improvisatory nature of filmmaking itself. Liv Ullman hence proves why she is one of the finest practitioners of her craft with but a single line of dialogue while Bibi Andersson is verbally adept at conveying her emotions and equally expressive and transparent with her muddled state of mind.
PERSONA is at the top echelons of hypnotic and thought provoking arthouse cinema of the classic era, for me. Its musical placements, camera movement, cinematography truly create an illusory nature of reality but one informed by the artifice and naturalistic tone of life’s deepest mysteries of the head and heart. I mean at the heart of its most engaging scenes, it becomes a chamber piece ala AUTUMN SONATA.