It’s a blessed occasion for me to have received the opportunity of watching three masters of their form share their concrete vision with this cinephile, over the past few days as I took time out of my schedule to accommodate precious hours for these works.
That special feeling of being privy to the intensity and many hues of landmark cinema by SATYAJIT RAY and INGMAR BERGMAN enriched me and the medium of watching them (courtesy YouTube) didn’t make a sliver of difference. I believe in the moving image’s sanctity and hence the screen ratio isn’t even an afterthought. If you ask me then personally I feel that YouTube and other streaming services are committing a great deed by making these classic titles available to us. Ultimately, watching them is a personalized experience for everyone.
So without further ado, let me write about each of the four works by these international icons and reserve praise for another recent entry into Netflix’s gallery of successes with NEWS OF THE WORLD, helmed by another master filmmaker Paul Greengrass and pivoted towards its destination by the gravitational pull of Tom Hanks’ noble aura plus a scene stealing turn by breakout star HELENA ZENGEL. This Western should join the genre’s hall of fame.
TEEN KANYA( THREE WOMEN/ THREE GIRLS) is an anthology film by one of India’s finest filmmakers and Oscar winner Satyajit Ray, released in 1961. What makes the two films that I watched, among its trio of tales written originally by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, is that it keeps its local soul, the Bengali flavour alive. That’s the reason why the universality of his emotional output resonates even today and has particularly been preserved as an heirloom within not just national annals but around the world.
Taking cues from its period settings, the essence of human nature is illustrated as being the same between then and now. It’s his tender, delicate and evocative touch that give these stories a folkloric whiff yet a personal beat to lives portrayed without exhausting a single minute of the little details that matter.
In SAMAPTI( THE END), now legendary actor and filmmaker Aparna Sen beautifully writs large the innocence and carefree nature of teenage and the pain of expecting to grow up overnight as a bride. Her unbridled spirit, however, is at odds with convention and all she wants is to ride the swing by the river and tend to her pet squirrel.
It’s a gradual movement towards acknowledging the decency and patience of her husband (another legendary star Saumitra Chatterjee) who she once laughed at as he slipped in the mud and who clearly understands her unwillingness to suddenly transition into a better half because she’s too young to know intricacies of life itself. To me, the lead protagonist’s journey informs us of an era when the perils of early marriages and being designated as a teenage bride was very potent. Once again, the healthy camaraderie in the man-woman bond is a hallmark, something Ray is adept at. Gita Dey and Sita Mukherjee too lend credence to the quicksilver bonds of maternal love and exasperation here.
MONIHARA( THE LOST JEWELS) is another part of this anthology; human greed for riches and the collateral damage wrought out of it is constructed ably by Mr. Ray in this instance. It’s essentially a ghost story, only the horror here is generated by a man’s ( Kali Banerjee) disbelief at his wife’s( Kanika Majumdar) betrayal and abandonment in a moment of financial crisis while her obsession with her box of jewels adds such layers of complexity to her already unpredictable exterior that it’s disconcerting to witness a bond of love and camaraderie surrender its effusion at the altar of material comforts.
Gobinda Chakravarti as the raconteur of this local legend strings the tale in a fashion we can identify as every aristocratic remnant boasts of such melancholy. Mr. Ray captures the mood of that isolation, that sense of dread and internalized pain for the male lead here in a haunting 53 minute capsule.
I will also recommend the celebrated series STORIES BY RABINDRANATH TAGORE, an original miniseries from Indian network Epic, currently streaming on Netflix too, to have a modern taste of these two tales especially, along with its entire ensemble. Period appropriate cinematography, mood, dialogues, excellently nuanced performances and social consciousness make it worthwhile and a worthy addition to the canon of works taking a leaf out of Tagore’s timeless ouevre.
Ingmar Bergman’s omnibus reaches its spiritually terrifying summit in HOUR OF THE WOLF (1968) whose central couple ( Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow) clash with their inner emptiness even as the spark of togetherness is palpable to their sustained bond of many years. Without making the why and whats of the situation, it’s the island imagery, otherwise serene and cut off from the hustle and bustle of city life, that slowly clears an inlet for human depravity as the introverted artist husband is beguiled by a group of sequestered aristocrats.
Their idiosyncrasies gradually warp him and the horror of his unique station in life becomes a living nightmare for him, fed by his past and impinging on the present. His dutiful wife is the point of view personage and is given contemplative passages of quiet strength offset by her better half’s stricken conscience.
Bergman and cinematographic collaborator Sven Nykvist provide it with a terrifying visual palette in sepia tones, the light and shadows evoking a chilling sense of dread, an internalized one at that. The screenplay hence has an ominous property, with unforgettable individual scenes, conversational exchanges simmering with unease and the lucid clarity of Liv Ullmann’s predicament and quest for a truth that goes beyond reason.
HOUR OF THE WOLF evokes Scandinavian legends and is attuned to realism. That’s why it is so effective and memorably haunting, akin to a nightmare scenario brought by class relations and artistic ennui.
THE SILENCE (1963) is an apt title for this bleak study of human relationships, a cinematic examination of filial distance that is painfully realistic. With its emphasis on naturalistic sound, especially clocks, and a lead character suffering from an undisclosed physical condition leading to excruciating pain, it was reminiscent of CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972) to this writer. As it’s a story cueing sibling dynamics, it becomes its companion piece though THE SILENCE was released a decade ago.
The more I think about it, the more I am intrigued by its no holds barred look at the way years of prior tensions implode with simmering rage and claustrophobic tempers for two siblings (played excellently by GUNNEL LINDBLOM and INGRID THULIN) who expose depths of control, regret and indifference in showcases of collective individuality. Sensuality very tastefully aids their reckoning. A breakdown of the spirit concludes it on an ambiguous note of even more pain and no closure.
At the end of the day, the child’s (JORGEN LINDSTROM) guileless innocence oversees a pantomime of silent reckoning in a foreign land with a foreign tongue, when he meets a group of liliputs and the elderly waiter at the hotel who all seem to speak a garbled tongue, almost like silent cinema. This puts it firmly in place with the central theme of lack of communication among adults.
Anyway, I feel very few filmmakers can represent the many layers of repression with such exactitude like Bergman. These two titles attest to that.
NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)
A western, by its structure, is meant to be modeled a certain way. There will be a conflict of interest pitting one’s self-preservation against greater forces of man, nature and the frontier of life. All this will predate modern American society and be a reflection of the cross-currents that shaped it. Harsh living conditions co-existing with survival instincts will guide relationships. Evil in the form of parochial, patriarchal modus operandi will approach from all sides and eventually be vanquished.
NEWS OF THE WORLD ticks those boxes but in its paternal core of warmth and selflessness finds Tom Hanks matching his sense of humility with that of an orphan girl who is every bit his equal in terms of screen time and emotional parallelism. Helena Zengel is a great discovery and by dint of her linguistic adaptability broadens her breadth of storytelling focus.
I was also impressed by the parts enacted by the formidable likes of MARE WINNINGHAM, ELIZABETH MARVEL, MICHAEL COVINO and BILL CAMP.
NEWS OF THE WORLD is a true Western, aided by its cinematography, music and the essence of life then. It must be watched by all.