Dune (2021)

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Written By: Jon Spaiths; Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth

Cast: Timothee Chalamet; Rebecca Ferguson; Oscar Isaac; Josh Brolin; Stellan Skargard; Dave Bautista; Stephen McKinley Henderson; Zendaya; Chang Chen; Sharon Duncan-Brewster; Charlotte Rampling; Jason Momoa; Javier Bardem

Language: English                                                      

Genre: Science-Fiction; Thriller

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune. It adapts the first part of the novel that looks into the journey and rise of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). Set in the year 10191, the universe is run like a feudal system with different noble houses running planets, all of which owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor.

On the water-rich planet Caladan, the homeworld of House Atreides, the Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son Paul are preparing to relocate to the planet Arrakis – a desert planet known only for its abundant sources of the mystic spice Melange – known to elevate the limits of the mind. The spice is a highly prized commodity, because it ensures safe inter-galactic travel, besides other things.

The Fremen,the tribes that live on Arrakis, have had to see their land ravaged by Outworlders, like the House Harkonnen, who colonise, extract the spice and destroy the planet. The Atreides relocation is fraught with political danger and combined with Paul’s strange visions, there seem to be other dangers lurking.

The film manages to do justice to the source material, retaining the grandeur of the experience. It also eases viewers into a world that is clearly unfamiliar by weaving the information seamlessly into the story. It explores the various cultural and political aspects in the book, albeit tentatively which justifies the cliff-hanger ending since there is much that needs to be answered.

The haunting soundtrack, coupled with stellar performances heightens the grandeur of the film. The realistic inclusion of the almost mystic techniques of the spiritual/psychological espionage network – the Bene Gesserit; a group who function like a shadow government introduces us to a reality where technology is meant to only assist the human and not become smarter. Yet the medieval attitudes and systems at play makes one wonder as to what human advancement is supposed to look like.

Dune part one sets the stage and whets the appetite for a sci-fi experience, if a little intense. It remains to be seen how part two will build on the ideas of politics and religion embedded in Herbert’s novel and do justice to it as a cinematic undertaking.

Enola Holmes (2020)

Directed By: Harry Bradbeer

Written By: Jack Thorne

Cast: Millie Bobby Brown – Enola Holmes; Henry Cavill – Sherlock Holmes; Sam Claflin – Mycroft Holmes; Helena Bonham Carter – Eudoria Holmes; Louis Partridge – Viscount Tewkesbury; Burn Gorman – Linthorn ; Adeel Akhtar – Det. Lestrade; Susie Wokoma – Edith

Language: English                                                      

Genre: Action; Comedy; Mystery

Enola Holmes is a 2020 Netflix release based on the author Nancy Springer’s Sherlock pastiche series – The Enola Holmes Mysteries. In 1929, Virginia Woolf in her seminal text A Room of One’s Own wrote about ‘what if Shakespeare had a sister who was equally brilliant?’  Keeping in mind that Shakespeare lived in the 1600s, one can imagine how Woolf’s thought experiment went but Enola Holmes is set in the 1800s when the Suffragist movement had begun to take off, so the narrative takes on an interesting trajectory.

Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) is a plucky, intelligent girl whose 16th birthday is marred by the disappearance of her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) and the appearance of her two older brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill). They haven’t seen her in years and they respond to her in markedly different ways. Mycroft is aghast at her wild behaviour and as her legal guardian decides to send her to finishing school (a rather ominous sounding space). Sherlock recognises a kindred spirit but isn’t in the habit of getting involved in people’s lives.

Enola decides to take matters into her own hands and goes in search of her mother. But her journey is halted by her meeting the runaway lord, Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) whose escape from his family’s demands leads to a dangerous chase for his life. Enola wants to go her own way but now she has two mysteries to solve all while eluding her brothers, a sinister villain and society’s limitations.

The story overturns socially limiting roles such as widowhood – a disguise that Enola uses, besides cross-dressing as a young boy – all to access a certain freedom of movement denied to women. The film is political in its questions on what is it to be British. Laudably on one end, the protection of the natural resources of the land and problematically on the other, the maintenance of status quo.

The film, with its focus on the exploits of a fictional sister of Sherlock Holmes, manages to hold its own without getting sucked in the cult of Sherlock; by Enola breaking the fourth wall to convey her opinions as opposed to being spoken for. None of the male characters get reduced to cardboard cut-outs – an oft-repeated criticism against stories with titular female characters. Even Viscount Tewkesbury, who may need Enola’s skills to survive death threats, is able to offer his prodigious knowledge of the natural world so that they can survive. The film then offers us a heroine who is learning to construct a world that does not have to be an either/or choice because as a thinking woman, she has the necessary skills to fight the villains of the story – the established order of society.

 

Palm Trees in the Snow (2015)

Directed By: Fernando Gonzalez Molina

Written By: Sergio G. Sanchez

Based on: Palmeras en la nieve by Luz Gabas

Cast:

Mario Casas – Killian

Adriana Ugarte – Clarence

Berta Vazquez – Bisila

Macarena Garcia – Julia

Alain Hernandez – Jacobo

Djedje Apali – Iniko

Laia Costa – Daniela

Language: Spanish                                                                

Genre: Romance; Drama; Violence

Palm Trees in the Snow is a 2015 Spanish feature film. With a backdrop of Equatorial Guinea during colonial times and the present, it follows a young woman’s search for her family’s story when they lived in Bioko, while working for the Spanish colonial enterprise. Going back and forth in time, it depicts Clarence’s (Adriana Ugarte) journey and the story of Killian (Mario Casas) and Bisila (Berta Vazquez).

Clarence is at the family estate for her father Jacobo’s funeral. With her uncle Killian suffering from dementia and her cousin Daniela (Laia Costa) taking care of him, it is left to her to sort through the family papers since they are considering selling off the family land.

In the course of looking through the papers, Clarence comes across a part of a letter that mentions a woman and child in Bioko who were receiving regular payments from her uncle. Considering the recent loss, Clarence decides to travel to Bioko to look for the people mentioned in the letter, and if they be relatives to bring them back.

The story then switches to the past, when Killian first joined his father Anton and his brother Jacobo (Alain Hernandez) at the colonial company. Naïve and idealistic, he is fascinated by everything around him but also quickly finds himself out of his depth.

Since the colonial machinery functions on violence and power, his soft attitude would be entirely useless and some in the company feel he needs to be remoulded. In fact, one of the overseers, Gregorio places a snake in Killian’s room and makes it so that one of the workers is suspected. The intention is to goad Killian into becoming a proper ‘Massa’ (master) – one who is unafraid of whipping the slaves when required. Killian does whip the slave but on realising what actually happened, he punches Gregorio. But the deed is done, and like it or not Killian gave into the idea that slaves can be whipped as punishment.

Most colonial narratives, in keeping with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, make it seem like it is the colony’s fault that the white man becomes cruel and rapacious. However, here it is clear that it is the white man’s fear that he would be unable to maintain power unless he exercises it violently. The film, thus, does not shy away from displaying human brutality.

Killian and Bisila’s relationship is beautifully portrayed. It is obvious that they are besotted with each other and even if race comes to play in every other matter of their lives, it doesn’t colour their relationship. However, one has to wonder at her portrayal in the narrative, does it present something new about a character of colour or does it follow the general pattern? In fact, many characters of colour are reduced to physical roles and not roles of articulation.

The story also discusses the changing political landscape of Equatorial Guinea. In Killian and Bisila’s narrative there is the fight for independence from the colonial regime. Their move towards autonomy in many ways means violence against the colonial power structures. When Clarence goes to Bioko, it looks at a postcolonial space that rejects and is rather suspicious of the entry of the foreigner.

The film is realistic in its portrayal of power relations, in that the white man has authority over the plantation workers but is in many ways subjected to the rules of the colonial enterprise. Within the white system, he or she may actually access very little power. On the other hand, the workers may have positions of power in their traditional systems and yet be subservient to the white man. In this, there is an interesting character Simon, who is Killian’s houseboy and the future head of his village. When Clarence meets him, he refuses to speak the ‘colonial tongue’ because that’s an identity he has rejected. All in all, Palm Trees in the Snow much like the title looks at the dichotomies created in peoples’ lives through the brutality of colonialism.

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

Directed and Written By: Peter Strickland

Cast:

Sidse Babett Knudsen – Cynthia

Chiara D’Anna – Evelyn

Monica Swinn – Lorna

Eugenia Caruso – Dr.Fraxini

Fatma Mohamed – The Carpenter

Kata Bartsch – Dr. Lurida

Eszter Tompa – Dr. Viridana

Zita Kraszko – Dr. Schuller

Language: English                                                       

Genre: Drama; Romance

The Duke of Burgundy is a 2014 British romance drama. Set in an idyllic location, it opens with a long peaceful sequence of the countryside and of Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) cycling past it leisurely. She stops by streams, observes everything around her and then makes her way to her place of work.

Evelyn works as a maid and apprentice at the house of a seemingly curt and imperious lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Their interactions are discomfiting because there seems to be a very obvious attempt on Cynthia’s part to denigrate Evelyn. But, before you can give into that assumption, there is a realisation that laced into their interplay is a ritual of passion.

In fact, when the day to day sequences seem to repeat with very little change, and that Evelyn seems to be consciously getting late for work, one begins to see more into their relationship. It is with that awareness that the power dynamic shifts.

Unchanging, could be the most important motif in the film because even the title sequence freeze into darkroom photographs. Throughout the film there are similar recurring still images, such as that of butterflies and moths mounted. They are lovingly maintained but lifeless. It is the ritual of studying the species out of its environment and when it’s dead. This metaphor runs into the viewer’s understanding of Evelyn and Cynthia’s relationship.

The film has an all female cast including in the lecture segments. Strangely enough, there are female mannequins placed into that all female audience. Since it is a female only world, many beliefs about sexuality and gender are voided.

By stripping it of such assumptions, it explores the dynamics of a romantic relationship. Is control and power in the relationship easily apparent, even if plays out as dominant-submissive? What about the insecurities that seep into such an intimate spaces especially when there both different expectations as well as limitations? And, how far do you compromise to keep a connection?  

The Duke of Burgundy is a richly textured film be it sound (the haunting OST by Cat’s Eyes), or image. As a film that looks more at the emotional toll that’s probably inevitable in a non-platonic bond, it may not be the average titillating erotica some might expect.

Weekend (2011) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Andrew Haigh

Written By: Andrew Haigh

Cast:

Tom Cullen – Russell

Chris New – Glen

Jonathan Race – Jamie

Language: English                                                             Genre: Drama; Slice of Life

 

Weekend is the story of a one-night stand between two men Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), that leads to something more. The story opens with Russell at his flat, smoking up. He seems to be dressing up to go somewhere but he ends up giving an impression that he wants to delay it, till it’s inevitable.  He ends up at his best friend Jamie’s (Jonathan Race) place for dinner. They are very close but he feels out of place either because he’s alone and they are all couples or that they are heterosexual and he has never truly accepted his place in the scheme of things.

He leaves early after making excuses and heads out to a gay bar where he checks out Glen but ends up chatting up someone else. Next day when they awake and Glen foists this art project that he has wherein he asks gay people who hook up for one-night stands to talk about the experience. To him, being homosexual is an identity gay people don’t acknowledge. This becomes rather apparent with the way Russell interacts with people. Interestingly, he too records his sexual encounters with people but does so privately, unlike Glen.

Their conversation, which crosses to the next day, becomes deeply political with its questions on identity, debates on relationships and open acknowledgment. It’s soon apparent that Russell lives non-confrontationally whereas Glen likes to sarcastically and belligerently, bring up his identity as a homosexual forward.

The relationship between Russell and Glen is for the weekend, like an extended one-night stand and this weekend could very well change things for them. The weekend takes them through an intensely emotional experience that gives some insight into how much harder a relationship could be for someone homosexual when society does not recognise or sanction it.

The relationship helps bring out Russell’s ambivalence about discussing his homosexuality with his friend Jamie. It helps bring them closer, because Russell has always closed off that side of his life from his closest friend, who knows that he is homosexual, but it is Russell’s discomfort that stops them from making a normal conversation about it. This becomes quite an interesting tangent to the narrative, for it points out that the general lack of acceptance as well as fascination/disgust from people around them, colours their friendships with heterosexual people.

It also overturns age-old stereotypes about homosexual relationships of who is ‘male’ and who is ‘female’ in it. The fact is that the power dynamics of being male and female (with its associated qualities) are constantly shifting in a homosexual relationship. The shifts occur in heterosexual relationships as well; just that no one acknowledges it.

Since the film with its brief canvas conveys the intensity of a relationship (because at the heart of it, it boils down to the human dynamics of a non-platonic relationship; sex and gender notwithstanding) as well as breaks stereotypes, it is a beautiful film to watch to normalise a relationship that has been needlessly politicised, romanticised and even more frequently, demonised.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) #SherylPuthur

ae-dil-hai-mushkilDirected By: Karan Johar

Written By: Karan Johar

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ayan Sangar

Anushka Sharma – Alizeh Khan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – Saba Taliyar Khan

Fawad Khan – DJ Ali

Lisa Haydon – Lisa D’souza

Imran Abbas – Dr. Faisal

Shahrukh Khan – Tahir Taliyah Khan

Alia Bhatt – DJ Alia

Language: Hindi; Urdu                                                    Genre: Drama; Romance

 

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a story about relationships and heartbreak. The film opens with an interview of Ayan Sangar (Ranbir Kapoor), a London-based singer who has gone from being a YouTube sensation to a popular singer whose music intrigues his audience for its poetry and pathos.

Ayan opens up about the relationships that made him and probably broke him. Alizeh Khan (Anushka Sharma) is a girl he meets at a bar. After a failed hook-up, they become good friends. It is a friendship characterised by straight talking and witty one-liners. They also bond on their shared love for Bollywood which is something that connects them to the subcontinent. They are two people who have learnt to deal with loneliness and distant parents in their own ‘carpe diem’ fashion. Their friendly chemistry leads Ayan to assume that there is more to their relationship. He falls in love with her and she loves him too, but platonically.

Alizeh is wary of relationships because of her previous turbulent relationship with the popular DJ Ali (Fawad Khan), whom she met at Lucknow while she was a student. She is not over him and his return into her life cause cracks to appear in her friendship with Ayan because he cannot take the rejection.

Ayan, in his desperation to forget or deal with his heartbreak becomes involved with an intelligent, sensual older woman Saba Taliyar Khan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She is a shayara (poet) and she is as intrigued by him as he is by her. Ayan has a pattern to his relationships which are largely about sexual satisfaction. If his earlier relationship with Lisa (Lisa Haydon) was marked by shallow physical needs on his side and gold-digging on hers, his relationship with Saba is on a more equal footing.

Conceptually, the film is great. It is about being ‘friendzoned’ by a lover. Literally every character in the film is friendzoned at some point or other. The film explores the complexity of modern relationships and points out the flaws in relationships that don’t have very solid grounding. It speaks about falling out of love with someone and growing steadily intolerant about certain aspects of your partner’s personality. And how, conversely, to protect a valued connection, one would turn the proverbially Nelson’s eye to the true dynamics of the alliance.

But, the treatment of the narrative is poorly handled. It abounds in clichés which get a tad bit irritating. Even the fact that the movie is narrated through an interview is implausible. That is an overlong interview and if it was reality, one could empathise with the plight of the interviewer.

That the screenwriting is lazy is obvious in the manner in which the denouement was reached. Another film that pretty much handled the same theme but in a far more mature fashion was Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Ironically, it is a Dharma Production.

Even the lead actors, who have obviously performed brilliantly, have taken recourse in roles they have essayed before. There is then nothing to look forward in their interpretation. Kapoor has reprised the pathos and confusion of his movies Rockstar and Tamasha (in fact, even the narrative borrows heavily from these two features). Anushka Sharma is mature in how she plays Alizeh but it’s still nothing new. However, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has truly pushed herself out of a performative comfort zone. Even Lisa Haydon is hilarious.

Now the elephant in the room is the political controversy that this motion picture got embroiled in because it cast a Pakistani actor. Fawad Khan is barely there in the movie and it might make an audience member feel ‘oh a storm in a teapot’ but it is my assumption that the film may have been re-edited post controversy and would have chopped out much of his role. It is rather sad that he leaves Indian cinema not with a bang but a fizzle.

Also, I suspect all the characters, except for Ayan, were Pakistani in origin. Even the scenes that were later dubbed as Lucknow may have originally been Lahore. This is more plausible because the punjabiness of the wedding preparation and music would be out of place in a Lucknowi wedding. This may have then implied that the narrative was heading towards the idea that we are so much more similar than we give credit for. It also did not seem a narrative that harped on the India-Pakistan past but side-stepped it and moved into a ‘this is how South Asians are’. It would have challenged the viewpoint that Indians in India have about Pakistanis when contrasted with that of Indians abroad. This very fact would have made this a mature take on the tense kinship we share.

Even the fact that Sangars are supposed to Brahmin, Ayan however, plays a very un-Brahmin role. If the above was how Karan Johar intended it, it is truly unfortunate that he had to pare down and remove all those subtle nuances that may have made the clichés more bearable.

So he has broken or tried to break community and nation stereotypes. But he hasn’t stepped out of the traditional Bollywood ending of tragic catharsis or truly reconciled himself to ambiguous or incomplete endings. The ending, therefore, is unexpected, incredulous and unintentionally funny.

On a side note, the cinematography and art design were aesthetic. The music of the film is brilliant. Moving, poetic and catchy – a double thumbs up.

Kes (1969) #SherylPuthur

kes-film-images-fd152e6d-6609-4e4e-bd96-7df64a76159Directed By: Ken Loach

Written By: Barry Hines; Ken Loach; Tony Garnett

Cast:

David Bradley– Billy Casper

Freddie Fletcher – Jud

Lynne Perrie– Mrs. Casper

Colin Welland– Mr. Farthing

Brian Glover– Mr. Sudgen

Bob Bowes– Mr. Gryce

Language: English                                                                   Genre: Drama

Kes is a 1969 film by Ken Loach based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. Set in a mining town in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Billy (David Bradley), a working class boy. A fifteen year old who has nothing to look forward to in life. The only possible career option for him is to join his brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) in the mining pits or some other similar blue collar job.

His daily struggles have to do with either combating or knuckling under abuse. It’s both his abusive older brother who uses him as his help, or his teachers and classmates who pick on him.

The teachers are jaded because none of the students show any involvement. It is after all understood that they will, in terms of profession, follow in their parents’ footsteps and end up in menial jobs. So the principal, Mr. Gryce (Bob Bowes), who was once passionate about his job is now an automaton who doles out advice and punishment in a mechanical fashion. Even his ‘lectures’ on discipline has an element of rote learning.

The school tries to instil values of mercy and compassion through religious passages but they are mere words that mean nothing. For instance, the morning assembly reading of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is immediately followed by the principal calling the students who were day-dreaming or yawning or coughing during the reading (including Billy) to his office for punishment. The narrative then abounds in such ironies.

Even the sadistic coach, Mr. Sudgen (Brian Glover), who uses Billy as a scapegoat for his failings and tortures him in the name of discipline in the shower room, by making him stand under a cold shower.

The truly uplifting moments in the film are when Billy takes up falconry and trains a kestrel that he names ‘Kes’. His concern for animals and his understanding of their behaviour patterns, belies the usual opinion that he is useless. An opinion his mother (Lynne Perrie) also holds.

Billy doesn’t see his kestrel as a pet but as someone with autonomy. The kestrel in fact, is a symbol of Billy and as an extension, the working class. They are free, untamed, proud yet fragile, they need to be protected, fed when hungry, taken outdoors away from controls and trusted to return.

The film gives no easy, quick fix solution. There is an English teacher who does attempt to draw out Billy but this isn’t a narrative of a teacher triumphing a student’s odds because they both come from a similar setting.

Kes is an unvarnished, darkly comic take on the English working class life.

What drew me to watch this movie was David Morrissey’s comment that this film made him hopeful to know that working class life could be the focus of a film. What kept me involved was the poignancy of Billy’s relationship with Kes.

Parched (2016) #SherylPuthur

parched_xlg

Directed By: Leena Yadav

Written By: Leena Yadav

Cast:

Tannishtha Chatterjee – Rani

Radhika Apte – Lajjo

Surveen Chawla – Bijli

Riddhi Sen – Gulab, Rani’s son

Lehar Khan – Janki, Gulab’s wife

Sumeet Vyas – Kishen

Mahesh Balraj – Manoj

Chandan Anand – Rajesh (Raju)

Sayani Gupta – Champa

Adil Hussain – Mystic lover

Language: Hindi; Gujarati                                                          Genre: Drama

 

Leena Yadav’s Parched is a women-centric film but unlike how it is represented, it isn’t just a movie about the abuse faced by rural women. In fact, abuse is one of the themes taken for granted throughout the narrative. Almost every female character faces it or is assumed to have faced it in the past.

Instead, the film is more about thirst. Sexual thirst – the act of being parched for pleasure, kindness, appreciation and recognition. Most Indian women, according to Sudhir and Katharina Kakar’s book The Indians have never experienced sexual pleasure. Sex for them is painful and a duty. And pleasure – a myth. Parched, then details what women talk about amongst themselves – how they wish to discover pleasure or try to find happiness in other things so that they can brush aside the glaring need for human intimacy that they have.

The three main women that the narrative revolves around are Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and Bijli (Surveen Chawla).

Rani is the respectable widow who is getting her son married to Janki (Lehar Khan) from another village. In flashbacks and through the one-sided conversations with her invalid mother in-law we see that she has never truly known happiness and had to put aside her books because a well-read woman cannot run a house. The irony is, she uses the same lines on Janki who wishes to study. More than anything, it tells the viewers what her mother in-law may have faced and how she too may have knuckled under societal pressure to follow norms.

Lajjo is known as the barren woman who is however, a skilled handloom worker. She is frequently seen sporting bruise marks – the handiwork of her husband Manoj (Mahesh Balraj). She is an innocent character who has romantic notions and jokes about being barren, though no one laughs. Rani is who she runs to for comfort when her husband’s abuse gets out of hand.

Bijli, on the other hand, is an erotic dancer who also satisfies the needs of the village men whenever she is asked to. She occasionally refuses and plays the diva but is frequently told that as a whore she should know her place. For Rani and Lajjo, she is the breath of fresh air and brings news from the outside world that they have never seen. She is also the only one among them who has experienced some pleasure in sex. They scoff at her stories of a man who treated her body as a temple because such a man does not exist in their opinion.

Women have no autonomy over their bodies and a pivotal scene that occurs in the beginning of the film is before the panchayat. A woman, Champa (Sayani Gupta) walked out on her marriage because of the abuse she faced but the sarpanch decrees that she must return because otherwise it will bring dishonour on the village. She loudly proclaims that she is being raped and abused by her in-laws but instead she is herded into the vehicle and the sarpanch is seen consoling the father that she will come to understand and accept it.

However, mirroring this scene is that of the women’s representative at the panchayat asking for the television to be brought in. The panchayat feel that there is no need for it, plus the mobile phones they asked for has been nuisance enough. They also claim that the expenses for the cable connection can’t be borne. But the women offer to pay for it from their savings through the handloom work.

So the changes that do come in are because of the women and this frightens some of the men who feel it emasculates them. Such as Gulab (Riddhi Sen) and his friends, who feels Kishen (Sumeet Vyas), a local entrepreneur, has brainwashed the women into believing that their handloom work can make them independent and self-sufficient. Kishen’s ‘foreign’ wife, as they refer to the Manipuri lady who is a teacher at the neighbouring village, is also to blame because she stands for unacceptable modern practises.

Alongside the abuse is the agency these women possess. They support each other and many of these women rebel unobtrusively. In fact, the frequent motif of travel such as in the beginning of the film when Rani  and Lajjo are travelling by bus is one such rebellion because Lajjo lets the wind blow away her pallu (long cloth covering the hair and sometimes face – a societal norm expected of women in public in many communities as a sign of submission). The wind blowing the hair that is so often covered is a running motif in the film because it is a forbidden pleasure.

The film is about them choosing for themselves within their own constraints, be it Janki choosing to study as well as help Rani with housework, even if she has to do it secretly. The film also has elements of homoeroticism especially in Rani and Lajjo’s relationship but it isn’t the simplistic reading that Deepa Mehta’s Fire gave to lesbianism which was, neglectful husbands = lesbian relationship. It is rather that, in a world where women do not experience intimacy, their female friends fill that void. Considering no one really questions the homoeroticism in Fight Club between Edward Norton’s character and Tyler (Brad Pitt), I suppose this could be met with similar nonchalance.

The film is a truly positive experience despite the startlingly real violence in it as it also about the agency of women. It has humour and poignancy in its portrayal of women’s experiences.

Crimson Peak (2015) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Written By: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Cast:

Mia Wasikowska – Edith Cushing

Jessica Chastain – Lady Lucille Sharpe

 Tom Hiddleston – Sir Thomas Sharpe

Charlie Hunnam – Dr. Alan McMichael

Jim Beaver – Carter Cushing

Burn Gorman – Mr. Holly

Language: English                                        Genre: Gothic Romance; Horror

 

Crimson Peak is a gothic horror romance by Guillermo del Toro. The film is not the usual horror as most would assume, instead also possesses all the stock elements of a gothic romance such as Jane Eyre.

The film begins with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) bloodied and shaken and then slowly slips back in time. She explains that since her mother’s death, she has seen ghosts and while frightened of them, she believes they have a purpose. In fact, her mother’s ghost comes to warn her about ‘Crimson Peak’ – a place, that when time comes, she should avoid.

Fast forward a few years, and we see Edith as an aspiring novelist and an eccentric heiress. Her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) is worried she won’t settle down to a sensible marriage and tries to foist her old friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam) as a possible suitor.

Things change when two strangers from England come into her town – Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), his sister. Sir Thomas approaches Mr. Cushing, with a business proposition. His lands on which his mansion Allerdale Hall stands is known for the finest red clay. He comes with a model for a clay mining machine that he believes will revolutionise clay mining.

He fails to make an impression on Mr. Cushing but he does, however, make Edith aware of him as a man. She finds herself attracted to him and her father tries to dissuade her from her fonder inclinations for him. They however, eventually marry but not before the mysteries that surround his home in England begin to envelope her and supernatural instances become more common. The house in fact, is known as Crimson Peak.

When they move to England, the claustrophobic fear of the old mansion, Allerdale Hall makes Edith uneasy. She slowly tries to uncover the secrets of the house and finds herself battling life and death.

While the narrative has, the usual trapping of a gothic story – a threatening mystery, looming curse over a doddering mansion, supernatural elements, hidden passages, it like Jane Eyre subverts binaries of male and female. Edith is not the typical damsel in distress rather she is strong-willed and knows her own mind. As a budding novelist, her figure of aspiration, as she mentions it, is Mary Shelley rather than Jane Austen; so a controversial figure as opposed to a respectable one.

The similarities between Crimson Peak and Jane Eyre don’t end there. Both Thornfield Hall and Allerdale Hall hide terrible secrets. And even when the two women suspect that there may be an unpleasant secret that the male protagonists are hiding, they continue to love them. It is rather like the old legend, Bluebeard’s Castle – a macabre story of warning.

There is an interesting scene when Lucille and Edith are in a park and looking at butterflies and Lucille’s conclusion is that beautiful things are fragile when Edith observes that they are dying. The scene isn’t openly menacing but conveys a lot of beliefs of the times that are subverted by the female leads themselves.

The story does have quite a few clichés, but at the same time it has a very interesting plot twist. The characterisation is very interesting as well, with well sketched out individuals. A lot has been said about the sex scene in the film. It is as egalitarian as spoken about (to read further check http://www.bustle.com/articles/117413-tom-hiddlestons-crimson-peak-sex-scene-is-ruled-by-mia-wasikowska-thats-a-big-deal).

The film cinematically retains an old world feel by using irises as a fade out almost episodically, quite like chapter ending in a book. This adds to the charm of the film.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) #SherylPuthur

OnlyLoversLeftAlive 1

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

Written By: Jim Jarmusch

Cast:

Tilda Swinton – Eve

Tom Hiddleston – Adam

Mia Wasikowska – Ava

John Hurt – Christopher Marlowe

Anton Yelchin – Ian

Jeffrey Wright – Dr. Watson

Slimane Dazi – Bilal

Yasmine Hamdan – Yasmine

Language: English                                                                 Genre: Drama

 

Only Lovers Left Alive opens with an image of the night sky which slowly revolves into a gramophone record. The camera slowly spins, taking in Eve’s room (Tilda Swinton) in a circular fashion, and then Adam’s (Tom Hiddleston). The camera moves closer and as the song ends, they open their eyes because their day (our night) has begun.

The slow measured and lyrical pace of the opening sequence sets the stage for the film’s ambience. It reiterates the theme that they are vampires who have seen worlds come and go.

Jarmusch’s poetic tale of love tells the story of two vampires Adam and Eve, who have been married for centuries and hence believe in giving each other their space. Eve lives in Tangier and Adam in Detroit. They stay in touch in their own quaint way, which is telling of how they see the world. Eve is open to technology and hence uses an I-Phone whereas Adam has built his own communication system through outdated equipment.

Eve is adventurous and open to experiences. Her close friend is Kit (John Hurt), otherwise known as Christopher Marlowe who centuries ago staged his death and chose to continue writing. Some of his plays were attributed to his then contemporary Shakespeare. Kit considers Adam to be the prototype of Hamlet and tells Eve that if he had known him when he was writing it, it would have been perfect.

Adam, in contrast to Eve, is a recluse. He is an underground musician who influenced the careers of many artistes such as Schubert, whom he gave an adagio for a string quartet. He is a pack rat who collects instruments, creates music and conducts various experiments à la Tesla. He doesn’t like his music released and has a horror of crowds and too many people. So he procures his instruments through Ian (Anton Yelchin), a human who idolises him. He rarely steps out unless he needs to collect ‘good’ blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who he meets dressed as a doctor with a face mask styling himself as Dr. Faust or Dr. Caligari (two interesting references).

Adam and Eve’s relationship is marked by old world charm, silent companionship and a fluidity of movements and thought that is beautiful. Their idea of small talk is philosophical conversations.

Adam’s despair at the ‘zombies’ or humans, is matched by Eve’s optimism. She has seen too much and for too long to be very depressed. But Adam’s tirade is a telling commentary on present society which he contrasts with his friends and the people he admires – Kafka, Tesla, Einstein, Schubert, Billie Holiday etc., who showed passion and involvement.

The dissonance in their relationship comes with the entry of Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Ava doesn’t understand their old world concerns and she is a threat to their carefully ordered world. Adam despises her for things she has done in the past and these are hinted upon.

The film is littered with literary puns and inter-textual references of music, film, philosophy, science and literature. It contemplates on the human race, art aesthetics, morality and the paradox of not wanting to live and living.

Beauty fades, but we want to possess it. Does living mean, loving too much and too fast because it cannot be held? Should we live in the moment and consider the consequences? Or should we be cautious about life? And most importantly, is morality and principles really important in the face of survival?

The film is a rich text that the viewer can luxuriate in. However, it will appeal most to someone who understands all the references. It is a postmodern film. After all, it makes Einstein’s Theory of Entanglement seem romantic –

“When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.”