A clear reason why documentaries evince an essential filmmaking canon for cinephiles like me is because they often work miracles that mere information in print doesn’t always suffice. 

In this portrait of an artist, there is nothing pathbreaking or even novel in terms of the taking heads or the form employed of recounting a living legend’s propensity for gritty tales of urban underbellies. But the insights we receive about the man/auteur behind  THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, TO LIVE & DIE IN L.A.  and CRUISING et al are priceless.

Possessing an intellect and writing a promising, even potentially great story inspired by life’s amoral ways is one thing. But to get behind the camera and dare to be in the same space as the crew and performers without the comforts of directorial authority is another ball game altogether.

As demonstrated admirably here, Mr. Friedkin was a rebel whose on-location modus operandi involved getting into an automobile without safety protocols or permits for that iconic car chase  in The French Connection or choosing the dangerous terrain of South America for Sorcerer’s serrated visual edge, especially in the part involving a truck crossing a rope-bridge, with the river in spate all around the crew. He could shoot The Exorcist’s most terrifying scenes from a point of faith echoing the observant screenplay’s characterisation while learning intricately about the underground S&M subculture for Cruising, the controversial printing of counterfeit money for To Live and Die…. ; or delve deep into the drug-addled ghost figures haunting New York’s dank, dirty alleyways and abandoned buildings for The French Connection. So he was never a distant figure and was instrumental hence in achieving the stark realism that his 1970s and ’80s oeuvre has come to symbolise. I was most fascinated by these insights that even an encyclopedic knowledge about these masters can skimp over. That’s where adequate research and a passion for the subject falls in director Francesco Zippel’s  favour.

Jason Miller bagging the part of the young priest in The Exorcist over another established performer who had already been finalized in advance or legendary actor Max Von Sydow not being able to mouth his lines in that very feature’s paradigmatic exorcism scenes, owing to his own atheism, make for other such bright spots. Ellen Burstyn, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Juno Temple, Matthew McConaughey and reputed opera conductor Zubin Mehta are among the names who unravel sides to the man and his unmistakable filmography. He, himself, is funny, zestful and doesn’t mince his words to appear goody two shoes.

From directing documentaries in his early days, one of which made a state government exonerate a man of colour from the electric chair, to operas in the present day to charming film festival crowds globally with his gift of the gab, natural showmanship and maganimity, this is a life put to the purpose for entertainment without discounting blotches of the human soul.

My personal favourite segment is the rare interview Mr. Friedkin conducts with Fritz Lang, director of Metropolis. The two men’s honest opinions seem tailor-made to be shared between them. That is an icing on the cake; this is why documentaries deserve their place in our culture.



If I can deem Charlotte Rampling a masterful conjurer of micro-expressions, I will. She exhibited an internalised swell of emotions articulated on her delicate, elegant facial terrain in 45 Years and used her eyes to unravel secrets and the supine passage of time in a scene of revelation there that will stay with me. That breaking down of binaries between the sacred and the profane, between chastity and desire in Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta was just as fascinating through her vessel of resistance, maternal poignancy and strictures. Not to discount her mostly vocal modulations that helped the mystical soothsayer in Dune transcend her veiled countenance.

In Swimming Pool, Francois Ozon’s fascinating study in restraint that uncovers human behaviour, she uses all her faculties of expression to bear on a graceful body language that moves in a continuum of self-control. However, the simmers operate through any crack in her facade. It is a study of a life that operates through silent resignation in indoor spaces, intellectual pursuits and as far from superficial human contact as possible.

Until a young girl( an excellent Ludivine Sagnier) breaks that self-imposed spell and thus begins a clawing back to real life’s complexities, affecting, if not imposing overall in this bubble of privilege and rejuvenation in the South of France. I loved how generations clash here without the clatter of all-out war. The situational content rests in the gradual opening up among them so that differences exist on an even plane and eventually the twain comes closer.

This is an enchantingly observed tale of bodies, faces and the erotic undercurrents that ripple through a swimming pool’s function as site of freedom and resistance from stereotypes. Watch how masterfully the opposite sides of the spectrums in terms of age, desires and worldviews conflate here, with the older woman revealing her own youthful paradigms with her current state while the younger female is free from hypocrisies, is cheeky and bold in her opinions but can break down in an instant and show signs of jealousy and hurt with acute direction of her eyes and physical movements.

Lines of promiscuity, artistic licence, authorial plagiarism occupy a complex plane in Swimming Pool where one figure’s accountability in invading the other’s personal privacy is greater than the young girl’s passionate indiscretions.


The final third further blurs the line between the writer’s plot development for her novel and the identity of the younger female who had become an intrinsic part of her world.

Ms. Rampling captures all inflections of her quicksilver journey and the screenplay understands the core of amoral human values very well.



Pier Paolo Pasolini’s take on the ultimate Greek tragedy is one that purists of the work will be greatly satisfied with. This despite the change in location, heterogeneous cultural influences and the contemporary inserts of early and mid 20th century at the beginning and end. All these actually lend it an universal characteristic, beginning with Morocco’s badlands and stark open vistas as the setting where the legend unfurls itself as a visual odyssey through fate, decisive actions and confirmation of a terrible, inescapable truth. The ancient tone hence becomes plausible .

To Mr. Pier’s credit, the folkloric principle embedded here fits perfectly with the aural use of flutes, guttural sounds in throes of violence and austerity of costumes. Performance wise, Franco Citti and Silvana Mangano get to emote without being entrapped by histrionic flourishes so common to such period productions and are given moments of quiet contemplation.

I was impressed by how our knowledge of the legend is evoked to evince pity and fear through observations, intertitles, the requisite dialogic gravitas and images of tragic physical details.

Looking at Morocco’s similarity to the stark beauty of Ladakh and the cultural austerity on display, it is clear why Oedipus Rex continues to fascinate us beyond its shocking preliminaries. An interpretation like this is welcome as it renounces the ego of photographic beauty and performative heights to immerse us in the fated tale of horror that comes from one’s familial antecedents, where no one person is to blame. Where Destiny is the ultimate accursed soothsayer. Where human motives seem to work under the spell of a predetermined master and commander.



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