DOOB: NO BED OF ROSES(2017)
DIRECTOR: MOSTOFA SARWAR FAROOKI.
DOOB was watched by me twice within a span of a week itself and it continues to haunt me. It is a consummate work of art that stays true to changing times and yet doesn’t let us forget that every family is unhappy in its own way. That is the power of universality that this Indo-Bangladeshi production achieves with the subtlety and nuance that Bengali cinema is known for within the subcontinent and beyond.
Another striking point about this familial blow-up informed by the patriarch’s illicit affair with a much younger woman is that while it subsumes societal diktats and attitudes, the private share of this disintegrating unit consisting of the dejected wife, college going daughter and teenage son is at the center of the storm. DOOB is progressive because it is unassumingly feminist and strikes a match for change, never letting the man escape the repercussions of his actions or making its women wallowing vessels of grief.
Set within a nation that is growing by leaps and bounds, the evolution of mindsets is visible. Director Mostofa Sarwar has a knack for letting the consequences of this affair on the part of the nation’s leading filmmaker(Irfann Khan) unfold with slow boiling realism that is so effective and heart wrenching that it completely strays from formula, relying on the cadences of silence, befitting a situation as grim as this where public reputations teeter on the edge and words are hard to come by.
Naturalistic sound design, evocative and non-exhibitionist cinematography aid it in that regard enormously. It begins with moments of quiet reminisces, invoking the lifetime of memories for a husband and wife pair of nearly thirty years, verbal articulations of being present for loved ones. Then as the thrust of the storytelling is led by tense exchanges and uncomfortable silences, DOOB excels as a study in human reactions and realistic outlooks after a crisis breaks the spell of established bonds. A relationship that began as an elopement and quick marriage today is worlds apart from the heady rush of the couple’s heydays.
Individual scenes of merit are plenty in the screenplay. Nusrat Imrose Tisha leads them as when she goads her mother to be independent, asking her to choose the colour of her sari by herself without her assistance, remembering the importance of taking driving lessons should an unexpected situation arises, equating that simple and ubiquitous act with empowerment still denied to women in so many ways or when her emotional outbursts at her father is laced with pragmatism. Or when she avoids heeding to his calls in the home and then rushes out to him with a bottle of water, tear stained, implying the burden of blood bonds even when under duress.
Rokeya Prachy matches her in screen presence with a dignified evolution that so many middle aged women will identify with, choosing to go back to teaching and this leads to one of the most wonderfully etched scenes in modern cinema where the daughter expresses her pride in her for being ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, precisely using that line as a metaphor for a social transformation that comes from within. Her sense of hurt is so great that she refuses to acknowledge her husband after his betrayal in any way. But equally strong is her reawakening and self-esteem when she finds her voice of reason.
DOOB respects their decisions and their slow and steady assimilation of 21st century rewriting of pre-ordained narratives.
Parno Mittra adds another layer to this implosive situation by pitching her almost Oedipal obsession with Nusrat’s father against her inexplicable, psychologically rich sense of ‘competition’ with her childhood best friend. Together with the profound impact of Irfann Khan’s expressive potency, she achieves a complexity that is human and deeply unsettling. Perhaps arising out of a lifelong deficit of attachment with her own family or peers. The same goes for Irfann whose haunting body language confirms his admixture of guilt, shame and melancholy. Watch as he is left speechless on a live show when confronted with his second marriage to a girl young enough to be his daughter or when he employs petty words and a bruised countenance to fire his loyal assistant, failing still to cover up his own personal shortcomings.
Mostofa utilises spaces, faces and distances to create a mosaic of interpersonal experiences that look beyond trappings of conservative social values and find the right balance of reaction. DOOB is a work of humanity that shows rather than explain its motives and pinches us by its final passages designed around the inevitability of death.
It’s befitting of the legacy of the great Irfann Sir and this wonderful cast of subcontinental talents. It’s haunting because it is particular and yet strikingly universal in its delineation.
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)
DIRECTOR: INGMAR BERGMAN.
Creative minds often face the charge of exploiting painful personal tales in the name of exploration. Very few are the filmmakers who use this motif of human pain to consciously illuminate its centrality of dilemmas and a yearning for real connection beyond physical bonding and parental support.
Ingmar Bergman’s filmography is filled to the brim with conflicts that dare to look at unhappiness and its inexplicable sources. THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY then is very particular in the spiritual disrepair and despair it addresses, the first in his SILENCE OF GOD trilogy, and takes the bold gamble of refusing to pander to the quick-fix halo of catharsis. Some of his images pertaining to cynicism, nihilism, a push and pull dynamic among kindred and mental health issues are explored within the comforting and simultaneously inhibiting confines of an island home, another major locational mainstay of his works spanning decades. PERSONA, HOUR OF THE WOLF come to mind here.
It begins with such jolly spirits, involving a swim in the sea, a congenial dinner and even staging of a play. But every homestead is potentially a ghosthouse and this gets its due attention in THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY as night sets in.
Harriet Andersson, portraying the limitations of joy within an afflicted body and spirit, is as brilliant here as she was in CRIES AND WHISPERS, only her silent broil in the latter is countered by long monologues tugging at the depths of her ill-begotten sense of hope in this instance. GUNNAR BJORNSTRAND and MAX VON SYDOW join in this melancholic symphony with great sensitivity. The void of pain is where they have cemented their souls collectively. Also effective is LARS PASSGARD.
Watch it for Ms. Andersson’s haunting communion with God through decaying wallpapers in a dilapidated room and the urgency of mental disintegration will become animated to you within mere seconds. Such is the empathy and transparency of this work.
PIECES OF A WOMAN(2020/21)
DIRECTOR: KORNEL MUNDRUCZO.
PIECES OF A WOMAN is a brave new front for personal filmmaking; I have a feeling that its dramatic properties have definitely acted as a temporary but sturdy channel of hard-earned catharsis for writer Kata Weber and director Kornel Mundruczo. Their own predicament of losing a child informs the earth shattering tragedy at the heart of this Vanessa Kirby film. It comes to us at a time when the very idea of creation, birth, death have all become intertwined in a global reckoning for every mortal soul.
I feel personally that it may go down in history as one of the only exigent pieces of filmmaking chronicling the circuitous and painful cycle of childbirth, a woman’s anatomy and her own autonomy to it after a blow to expectations of child rearing. Or in how to grieve in a world ready to dictate terms to her. Vanessa Kirby’s work, like Ryan Gosling’s in FIRST MAN, is heartrendingly realistic, so shorn of melodramatic tropes or expected beats, revealing itself layer by layer, piece by piece, complemented by its seasonal journey from winter to spring, like a whole passage of rebirth for anyone who has seen loss of a child or of any hue from such proximity.
The title earns its emotional wattage hence. Ellen Burstyn is profoundly impactful here as is, lest we forget, Molly Parker as the hapless midwife caught in a legal loop that refuses to acknowledge her lack of complicity in a case of natural loss or the grieving mother’s life force of empathy for the former. Ultimately, it’s a work where the pieces of each of these three women fit together in unison and clarity.
Pain has no substitute. But kindness and empathy make the healing process a little bit more tolerable. This important and unique work achieves it by embracing human flaws and the inability to sometimes condition pain. Kirby’s screen presence will resonate with women and couples who know what it means to lose a child and face an unyielding social order.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE(2019)
DIRECTOR: ROB EPSTEIN, JEFFREY FRIEDMAN.
Over the unfolding first three months of 2021, I have expanded my Linda Ronstadt discography to include such classics from her catalogue as WHEN WILL I BE LOVED?, GET CLOSER, LIES, TRACKS OF MY TEARS, IT’S SO EASY, JUST ONE LOOK, DESPERADO, DIFFERENT DRUM, HEAT WAVE, POOR, POOR, PITIFUL ME and the golden 1990s standards STILL WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE and silken duets with Aaron Neville as DON’T KNOW MUCH and ALL MY LIFE.
The standard bearers remain, for me, CRY LIKE A RAINSTORM, BLUE BAYOU, LOSE AGAIN, YOU’RE NO GOOD as well as those recorded gems with Trio members and soul sisters EMMYLOU HARRIS and DOLLY PARTON, namely THE SWEETEST GIFT and AFTER THE GOLD RUSH. Watching hours of her impeccable live performances, music videos and a rare interview in 2019 at her San Francisco home now and few years back as I recall, I was fully prepared for this timely documentary that lays claim to her genuinely eclectic artistry that straddled worlds and genres in principle.
Audio clips, photographs, archival material and talking heads abound in the usual format but they are always in the service of her as a foremost musician. Her commitment to her Mexican ancestry and the landmark album of standards to that tune, operatic work on PIRATES OF PENZANCE and her own unabashed personal views on racism and old guard mentalities of the fraternity all find a space.
Her brush with Parkinson’s too refuses to make her approachable genius or unassuming personality budge under mortal pressures. It closes with a magical moment of her humming along with her nephew despite years of non-vocal commitments owing to her condition. Hence, the eternal songbird flies away from her cage to soar with a spirit and penchant for music unlike any ordinary mortal.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE recently won a Grammy award for best music film and is extremely necessary to remind this generation of this great alchemist. In this age of mass-media saturation and low concentration thresholds, this VOICE should and will guide them home.
GRACE OF MONACO(2014)
DIRECTOR: OLIVIER DAHAN
Never wish too much for a fairytale life. That’s the wisdom works like DIANA, THE CROWN and GRACE OF MONACO have only very steadfastly made us privy to.
In this instance, Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) is essentially made to represent a pacifist attitude to thaw relations between French government and the sovereign of her kingdom Monaco; basically it’s the sovereign of one-percenters who wouldn’t give up their storied, hollow lives of opulence to receive state-sanctioned taxes. The weight of the crown on her head entails her to put on a show that goes against the grain of her humanitarian work for children and play into the hands of a fossilised but still active royalty. Which is to say much of the elite classes’ own hubris. Her elegant humility clashes in its own powerful way within those gilded walls.
Despite the many negative reviews accorded to it, I will beg to differ to say that this is an extremely well-made period piece, on the lines of the similarly savaged DIANA. Nicole Kidman’s bravura turn and always expressive countenance is captured in close-ups, with a particular focus on her eyes, to illustrate her bemusement at the life she chose for herself. A life of privilege and renown but zero interiority. It problematizes that synopsis with her career ambitions ala return to Hollywood clashing with her role as a glorified housewife and the promise of independence losing its sheen with worldly expectations of feminine detachment. GRACE OF MONACO raises its bar by letting every eye expression, speech pattern give away clues to her sustenance, within this pantomime of established glamour and false elitist bravado.
In turn, it lets us uncover a piece of Grace’s soul that perhaps never lost its vitality. That’s the intrigue and powerful conceit that director Olivier Dahan ( of LA VIE EN ROSE fame) conjures beautifully. He and Nicole point at the play of appearances and of the human face as a canvas that conceals and shows its soul in equal measure. That’s what the critics failed to notice.
Also, it’s special since it is produced by India’s own filmmaking behemoth YASH RAJ FILMS.