|The A Bomb|
29 July 2012
28 July 2012
|Deep Focus Cinematography by John Alton.|
26 July 2012
|The opening title caption.|
25 July 2012
|Abhay Deol - one of the best actors of his generation.|
Indian filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee’s latest film Shanghai is a brave attempt at the political thriller genre. The film adapts the 1967 novel Z by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, which was made into a film in 1969 by Costas Gavras, and updates the material to contemporary India. Weaving together the lives of four key characters, the narrative focuses on the murder of an outspoken social activist and charismatic leader Dr. Ahmadi. The murder of Ahmadi by the major political party, which is running for election, brings together filmmaker (specialising in porn films) Joginder (Emraan Hashmi) who was present at the time of Ahmadi’s murder, Ahmadi’s staunch supporter Shalini (Kalki Koechlin) and Krishnan (Abhay Deol), an emerging civil servant. The murder of Ahmadi, which takes place as a spectacle before the eyes of his supporters, results in the current government implementing an enquiry headed up by Krishnan into the Ahmadi’s killing. It is only later that Krishnan discovers that the enquiry was set up primarily by the current government as a way of covering up the crime since it involves the Chief Minister. Joginder and Shalini’s amateurish investigation lifts the lid on a quagmire of corrupt politics with the main political party, the IBP, using its members to intimidate and kill Ahmadi while attempting to cover up the truth. Ahmadi’s concerns seem real enough, arguing that the government’s longing to steal land that belongs to the oppressed underclass of India so that it can be used for an expensive infrastructure project is very much about corporate expansionism. Ideologically, Ahmadi’s outspoken political position makes him a target and the silencing of his voice is familiar signs of a government that cannot offer protection to those who speak out against prevailing economic and social interests. Director Banerjee succeeds in capturing the nexus of power relations that intersects amongst the people of a city in a state of unease and on the edge of self-destruction. For me the weak link in the film is Kalki Koechlin who plays Shalini. Her character seems underwritten and the role she plays in the narrative should have been more critical and dynamic. Additionally, Kalki is miscast in the role of Shalini unlike Emraan Hashmi who is effectively creepy as an unsavoury amateur filmmaker. When Shalini and Joginder finally present their audio and visual evidence to the enquiry it falls upon Krishnan to take action. At first Krishnan is coerced into accepting that the enquiry set up to deal with the murder of Ahmadi be closed due to lack of evidence. Krishnan is trying to forge himself a political career, which is expedited by the backing of the Chief Minister who appoints him as an adviser to the government. Banerjee dares to debate a very important issue in India today, that of development, and the price the oppressed have to pay so that the ruling elite can continue to rule unequivocally and with a frightening impunity. Shanghai is certainly his most ambitious film to date and what makes it one of the best Indian films of the year are the closing moments in which the juxtaposition between development and dissent coalesce into a terrifying reality.
|Bane vs Batman|
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has become a shadow of loneliness and his last connection to reality is Alfred, his faithful butler. Interestingly, the new Gotham in which crime has been eradicated as a result of Commissioner Gordon’s terminal lie reflects a new era as symbolised in the real life election of President Obama. It is a Gotham of relative stability yet beneath the austere surface is a corrupt and familiarly unequal society controlled by a wealthy elite - in other words, nothing has changed in terms of power and class since Obama came to office. Nolan has surprisingly downplayed the different social and political references made by the trilogy and this latest film continues such a preoccupation. If this new film takes place against Obama’s term in office then the it is not unexpected to find Bane’s first targeted attack against the stock exchange, a widespread symbol of social discontent and a site of economic corruption. Such an attack against the very financial structures that have created a seemingly perpetual age of austerity and global recession may in fact be justified given the way bankers have betrayed the trust of the people. Such prescient moments underline the film’s zeitgeist aspirations, framing the revolutionary actions of Bane and his army as both sincere and realistic. However, Bane’s revolutionary stance is rubbished by the presence of Selina Kyle who by teaming up with Batman bridges a necessary social and economic divide that separates Bruce Wayne from Gotham’s dispossessed. By holding Gotham to ransom with a nuclear bomb, Bane’s status of an ex communicated mercenary and former member of the League of Shadows changes to that of a terrorist. It is this threat posed by terrorism that ultimately unites the rich and poor of Gotham, acting as a social leveller and finally demanding that Selina Kyle surrender her ideological baggage for the greater good of the city. Perhaps then both Batman and his associates are in fact conservative agents of closure, restoring order by facing up to Bane’s terror and dismissing the more rational ideological musings of Bane as ancient demagoguery. Whereas the Joker in The Dark Knight was interpreted by some critics as a pale reflection of Osama Bin Laden and with Batman standing in for George Bush, The Dark Knight Rises locates the power struggle to the potent iconographic setting of New York, thus making clear parallels with 9-11 and exploiting audience memories of past events. Of course, films which subscribe to the dominant point of view, which encompasses the majority of Hollywood films, are not to be discussed in such political terms because they are in fact entertainment for the masses. As Nolan has said, he only sets out to tell a good story not offer any kind of social or political commentary. Fair enough but such a feeble position sounds a little cowardly given the way the film taps into current anxieties.
The refusal to negotiate with terrorists is an echo from the Bush doctrine and yet by placing such rhetoric within the context of the new administration suggests a natural continuation of attitudes to the Arab as the demonic Other. Given that Bruce Wayne was trained by the League of Shadows, his battle with Bane is in fact a battle with himself. Nevertheless, by locating the myth of Talia al Ghul in an unnamed country, most likely India, and with the comic book telling us she and her father are of Arabian descent, makes the threat posed by the Other an altogether conventional, if not xenophobic, one. However, the trilogy seem to downplay the Arabian lineage in fear of yet again labelling the Middle East as fanatics who dream of bringing about the end of western civilisation. Of course, the great conundrum in all of this is that The League of Shadows led by Ra’s al-Ghul trains Bruce Wayne to become a formidable warrior. The Dark Knight Rises really comes alive in the third act, something which many recent blockbusters have failed to get right, and weaves together numerous narrative situations to create an ambitious conclusion to a hero’s quest started in Batman Begins. What makes Nolan’s conclusion audacious is the way he leaves the final moments open to interpretation. He does so by drawing on the ending of his most recent film Inception and by throwing in the wish fulfilment of Alfred, closure becomes a complicated affair. It is a film richer in terms of social/political subtext and scope, and equals the emotional resonance generated by the first two films. However, the score by Hans Zimmer is not as good as the first two films and the absence of collaborator James Newton Howard is telling in many respects. The two greatest assets of the film are Bale’s understated performance as Wayne/Batman (by far his best of the three films) and the magnificently noirish cinematography of Wally Pfister. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it a visionary work? No. Is it a great mainstream blockbuster? Yes. And for that alone Nolan should be praised.
10 July 2012
William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Lett’s 1993 play ‘Killer Joe’ gives us things which a lot of American films tend to avoid these days; sex and violence. I’m not sure if Friedkin ever ventured into the territory of fantasy or the child’s point of view yet most of his contemporaries including Martin Scorsese have done so. Does that mean Friedkin’s oeuvre in terms of serious, adult content (not in the pornographic sense) has remained more consistent over the years than his contemporaries? From his latest film Killer Joe it certainly feels as though it has. The last time I witnessed audience members exiting a film screening was last year’s Tree of Life. Whereas the reason for audience polarisation with Malick’s transcendental work was largely religious or theological, Killer Joe was good old fashioned revulsion – oh shit, I can’t handle this! Or this is surely in bad taste. I guess the sex and violence in Killer Joe is in bad taste but of course, that’s the real point of the film – an attempt to gauge audience opinion on the way taste has become an indicator of the way we lead our lives. It is easy to read the duplicitous, amoral killer played devilishly by Matthew McConaughey as a collective projection of sin. The white trailer trash family that hires Killer Joe to murder their mother so that they can claim the insurance payout is an aberration of the American dream – a grotesque and perverted statement on family values. In terms of genre, Killer Joe could be categorised as a neo noir but the unsettling mood created by Joe’s violent temperament also invokes the horror film. Joe maybe a monster but he is a monster who seems to be conjured up the deepest anxieties of the family and his mysterious persona adds to the argument of his unworldly presence. The noirish accents are familiar enough to us including the act of betrayal, the doomed male protagonist, the femme fatale and a crushing fatalism but it is the sexual corruption of the youngest member of the family, the affable Dottie (Juno Temple) that gives the film a discernibly nasty edge. Friedkin finds it difficult to shake off the theatrical nature of this piece yet with the final sequence in the trailer he delivers a memorable, if not repugnant, dinner table sequence involving one of the most innovative uses of fried chicken ever seen in an American film. Killer Joe certainly suggests that Friedkin is still a provocative filmmaker.