THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES(1969)
Being in thrall of Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul’s excellent reinvention of the documentary form in such works as KHAYAL GATHA, MAATI MAANAS, DHRUPAD and SIDDHESHWARI etched the way for me to appreciate Sergei Parajanov’s visual tableaux form in THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES. Mr. Shahani has obviously watched Sarajanov’s oeuvre as his testimonials will show.
For me, as a cinephile in constant search of the most unusual idioms and styles of presentation, this European masterpiece unveiled a flux of such richly original imagery, I felt joy and utter enchantment by it.
Taking as its spiritual cue the life and works of poet Sayat Nova, THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES stages, in the most intimate and mystical manner, a whole series of painterly images that are static yet never mundane, in movement yet blessed with the dignity of gestural and expressive dynamism . His eschewing of a conventional narrative is also a springboard for him to utilise secular components, cultural aspects particular and universal especially objects, costumes and settings and at the same time the space and time continuum of theatre. Puppetry, mime and folklores become essential ingredients in this compact mix. For me, its best passages deal with the idea of peace and war, life and death, a world of lush human accoutrements offset by spare monastic livelihood.
Among some of my favourite images are of the fabrics and their colours being unforgettably received by the viewing eye, the reenactment or should I say encapsulations of Sayat Nova’s texts through intricately performed tableaus by a single actor in various avatars( Sofiko Chiaureli), eschewing gender conformities and roles, the almost biblical import of him as an adult surrounded by lambs and his final passage from mortal life to the other realm signalled by the same gestural and expressive dynamism that defines this screen treatment.
These are just a few among the whole of this extraordinary work of sensual reckoning. It’s spiritually uplifting, recreating the origins of cinematic vocabulary through its non-verbal cues and intertitles, and bears a special place for cinephiles owing to its impeccable restoration by Martin Scorsese fronted World Cinema Project.
There’s something rarified about the purity of viewing human bodies and actions, in a visual form where they are absolutely separated from the psychological and physical pressures of ‘presenting’ themselves as would be fit for audiences. This work captures them with patience, an eye for foregrounding details within each frame and places them in locations where the artifice of carefully coordinated movements get transmuted in the service of sheer poetry. Poetry was Sayat Nova’s calling and spiritual forebear. It is the hallmark here. How lucky am I indeed to have received its polished, transcendental treasures.
THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES has exclusively been released on MUBI so I urge all cinephiles to watch it.
A PRIVATE WAR(2018)
Matthew Heineman’s A PRIVATE WAR sets the stakes for a life-script shrouded by the very visible fear of death. Marie Colvin, intrepid reporter and fearless war correspondent, pierces our expectant gaze by observing, writing and genuinely upholding the ideal of telling people’s stories within those rings of fire. She pierces through the defensive walls of fear to believe in her job’s integrity. As played by Rosamund Pike, Ms. Colvin’s posthumous reckoning in our public sphere recognises that it’s not gender or the fear of death that defined her. It was her zeal to go where very few would. Martha Gellhorn and our very own Barkha Dutt join her ranks as bravehearts who went within the maelstrom of man-made conflicts and covered the devastation even as bombs went off and the very real infernal haze of their surroundings captured the flipside of peacetime and political wrangling.
A PRIVATE WAR puts us at the very heart of these situations. For Ms. Colvin, it’s never a mad zeal to pursue a story. It’s to put a human face to tragedies the general public is spared of. She wants us to know that there is a domino effect of each life lost and each city razed to the ground. War is a global catostrophe.
Clad in an eye patch( with her eye injury sustained during a dangerous stint in Sri Lanka’s civil war years) and with sometimes wobbly steps, her haunting mental worldview and vulnerability is genuinely upheld here, particularly in a scene in the rehab where she pours her heart out to her long-time associate Paul(Jamie Dornan)
We are jolted by her experiences and observations throughout. Yet the final stretch of this screen treatment manages to capture the essence of not just her unwavering spirit, of transmitting the human cost of war from one of the world’s most treacherous locations but how death is literally knocking at the front-steps for her and her colleagues. It’s poignant, wrenching and utterly realistic. The dust and annihilation of a civilization then grips us beyond the tick, tick, boom sense of Colvin’s lifetime being recounted from the final tryst in Syria, in flashback.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE(2017)
Lynne Ramsay’s gripping screenplay for YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is essentially a requiem for lost childhoods and fragmentary lifetimes/livelihoods.
The imagery here is such that the nature of the protagonist’s burning soul, adjunct with his covert job as an agent of justice frequently rescuing abducted girls from the sordid underbelly of human trafficking, delivers an emotional wallop. The screenplay is spare, minimalistic and instead of employing ready reckoners of gore and thwack of slick action, enters the psychology of Joaquin Phoenix’s man on a mission.
His lovely bond with an ageing mother is on a collision course with the tumult of having served in the army possibly during the Iraq or Afghanistan stints. That recurring image of a young girl’s body in her dying moments is like a rattle through his own physical being that never lets him forget the humanity of his station or of innocence lost. The sound design and ominous staging juxtaposes these with recollections of his own childhood where domestic violence was rampant at home.
Hence, the imagery here blends those two strands- of his professional self and the internal world of a seemingly tough man out to save a senator’s daughter from the clutches of trafficking.
Among the images that stayed with me, few are as follows.
The senator and a governer running for higher office are put in the same frame. Their expressions meld to show that both have equal responsibility for the young girl’s fate. The protagonist clicks photographs for a group of young girls together. Then the teary-eyed face of one of the girls and the intensity of Phoenix’s look intimate us that she is one of the many he has rescued. A woman with bruises on her face stands next to Phoenix on a railway platform. The ubiquity of violence of varying degrees against women gets under our skin. The only difference being that publicly he cannot do anything for an absolute stranger. Or the infantile, asinine song playing at the private house holding the girl, intimating us of visible ways in which sexism operates at a basic level.
The most haunting passages are where he gives his murdered mother a watery burial, almost drowns himself with her body and at the last minute lets go of the stones in his pockets and comes up to the surface. A distinctly Virginia Woolf- like melancholy motif colours this part. Then towards the end, upon discovering the abuser’s throat has already been slit by the young girl he must rescue, he breaks down, to be comforted by the one abused. Her loss of innocence and his paternal core become one to inform that emotional breakdown.
Which brings the realisation that we may all attempt to be catchers in the rye, doing our best for safeguarding children and women, but our conscience is forever haunted upon discovering an evil culture that scandalizes and sexualizes the youngest among us, preying on their vulnerability. This core of vulnerability sets Phoenix’s seemingly average Joe apart from other wooden avengers. Jonny Greenwood’s music heightens the palpable sense of tension here.
All that I’ve covered in my preceding reflections amply sum up the overall tempers of Gregg Araki’s unflinchingly honest look at sexual abuse, meted out to two boys when they are not even ten years of age. Their experiences scandalize and alienate them at the same time. The recourse for recovery is wildly different for both. Trauma’s lifelong edges cut their minds and souls as also the promise of youth.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN is a particular tale about their experiences but is a cautionary tale and wake up call designed for absent parental figures as also for those who think that abuse exclusively entails a site for exploitation of women and girls.
I was warmed by its honesty, bonds of affinity in the aftermath of life-changing arcs and performative aptitude. Rare is a work of cinematic art that raises its head above cliches and unevenly handled points of earnestness. MYSTERIOUS SKIN is a rare, poignant rejoinder to conservative scenarios as it recognises the very human cost of abuse without drowning itself in a cynical base. Sentimental outcomes are not where it arrives at. It haunts us, leaves us looking for signs and probing our own experiences to know what distinguishes the appropriate from the opposite.