Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Apple

Seventeen year old Samira Makhmalbaf voices for freedom of Iranian women with her minimalistic tale 'The Apple' (1998). The film was premiered at Cannes, 1998. 

Twins Massoumeh and Zahra, 13, are locked in their house for 12 years because their mother is blind and she cannot look after them. Old father has to work to earn the livelihood of the family. The girls have poor hyegiene and suffer from undernutrition. Parents do not let the girls go outside, even in the yard. They think boys might touch them while playing, which in return would dishonour the whole family. 

Girls have never been under the sunlight, neither they have ever tasted the fresh air. They don't have friends, and at most are deprived of education. They don't know how to speak, how to walk, and how to behave. They didn't learn to talk, thus are forced to make sounds like animal whenever they need to communicate. Stuffs like right to freedom and other fundamental rights do not make any sense to them.

Neighbours file a complaint at a social welfare organization, which pressurizes the family to release the girls. While discussing with the father, a social welfare woman blames the gender that confined the girls inside bars. If they had been boys they'd go out with their father. They would play outside, and even climb the walls. The father quotes an old book in response to her, 'A girl is like a flower, if the sun shines on her, she will fade. A man gaze is like the sun and a girl is like a flower. It's like putting cotton next to a fire: it will be consumed.'

Makhmalbaf challenges woman repression deep rooted in the culture; even books are misleading people by categorizing women as delicate beings. In one early scene, the welfare organization intervenes and takes away the girls. They trim their hair because it's very untidy. The mother comes to find the girls are not wearing burqa, and she starts quarrelling.

The film well plays with the world and mindset of children. After the girls start going outside and make friends, they are taken to an old man who sells watches under a railway. Friends ask the old man for a wrist watch that goes "Choo choo." The man responds he does not have any watches like that. But the girls insist he had a watch that went Choo choo when they were here the last time. The man gives a cunning answer- just as they had come to look for the watches, a train had gone past, going like Choo choo. 

Title 'The Apple' is very relevant to the story as apples connect girls to the outer world, and even helps them make friends and learn communicating with people. 

Technically the film is not very brilliant, but the boundaries the storyline is set within compliments it. Writer and editor Mohsen Makhmalbaf's acute sense of artistic craft adds charms in lots of scenes, notably: the prisoned girls printing their hands on the wall; watering the flowers from inside their bar- an emblem to their subconscious will of freedom and proper nourishment; one kid sits inside a clumsy window bar and amuses himself swinging a suspended apple to fool people on their way.

Left: Samira Makhmalbaf directing The Apple.
Samira Makhmalbaf (20) while speaking at Cannes stage for her 2nd film 'The Blackboards' said "After my film 'The Apple', many people questioned me about Iran. They wondered if Iran was really a country where 13-year old girls could be locked up for 11 years and where an 18-year old girl could have a first film at Cannes. I think Iranian women are like freshwater springs: the more pressure applied the more force they show once they are freed."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Imposter

Film takes liberty on being technically polished as its dependency on real life footages is too minimal.

Nicholas Barclay
Frédéric Bourdin (1997)
In 1994, a 13 year old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappears from his home in Texas, USA. Three years later (i.e. in 1997) Frédéric Bourdin telephones from Spain pretending himself to be the lost Nicholas Barclay of Texas. Bourdin becomes successful in concealing his real identity through all official procedures to acquire American citizenship and to fly to the land of United States. He returns home with [Nicholas's] sister surprising the whole nation.

The kid Nicholas was very playful and outgoing, but this grown up boy is completely different. He has different accent now, and completely opposing behaviours, but the family accepts this stranger warmly. The family do not bother a second to identify if he is their real boy. 

Frédéric Bourdin (2012) telling his story.
Media and investigating bodies gets interested over new Nicholas. The news hit the whole US media as Nicholas accuses the kidnappers (high official US militaries) of  their continual torture that led to complete changes in his behaviour and even bodily organs, like colour of his eyes. The circulation of news persuades people with complete hatred towards savagery of its military. 

Meanwhile, one private investigator (Charlie Parker) does not take the Nicholas case easily. He follows the case so closely that he spots variations in few of his biological constructions. The impersonator couldn't concealed few of his biological characteristics (e.g. structures of his ears, accent he learnt from the family he grew with). It leads to more rooms for doubts and suspicions about his identity and objective.

Private investigator Charlie Parker
The impersonator is arrested in 1998 (four and half months after his arrival in the US) and is identified as Frédéric Bourdin (aged 23) from France wanted by the Interpol for frauds, and impersonating crimes he committed. His arrest does not leave the Nicholas' family in peace as Bourdin claims while in custody that the family knew of him as fake Nicholas from the beginning, and it was giving shelter to him only to cover it's crime. No one is ready to take the blame of who did what to whom as both Nicholas' sister and Bourdin curse 'fuck him' and 'I cared just about myself, and fuck the rest of it' respectively. The film ends with questions about Nicholas Barclay, and what happened to him in reality. 

Acot Adam O'Brian reenacting imposter Bourdin
Directed by British director Bart Layton, The Imposter (2012) is made in an approach of crime investigative drama. Film is very dramatic as it is constructed around reenacted scenes, real life interviews of the imposter, Nicholas' family members and relatives, and the investigators, and very few real footages. Interview of the imposter Bourdin serves as the principal backstory as reenactments are primarily based on his accounts of incidents. Bourdin's voice is used over the miming of the actors to authenticate the story as his account of the events, not the filmmaker's. 

Film takes liberty on being technically polished as its dependency on real life footages is too minimal. Editing gives smooth transitions and bridges between periods, handling every movements and changes very well. Wide landscapes, placement of interviewees inside the frames and their dress codes, appropriation in selecting settings for interviews, etc. well blend to the colour of the film. Lots of musics and sounds are used to add more of thrill and depth to the life of story. With The Imposter, storytelling through documentary films arrives at a very creative and sophisticated age.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Blackboards

Beautiful film is made on-location. 
[The writeup might contain spoilers.]

Kurdish teachers looking for pupils
During Iraq-Iran war few Kurdish teachers travel from places to places  looking for pupils in the hills and villages of Iran, near Iraqi boarders. They carry blackboards on their backs and offer anyone they meet on the way to teach reading and writing. All schools in the areas are supposedly bombarded, and the chemical war is forcing everyone for a hard time. Even pre-teen boys work hard to earn their livelihood. Armed securities patrol the skies and roads, and shoot anyone suspicious.

The jobless teachers, blackboards tied on their backs, who are travelling in a flock separate at one point after their personal assumptions of danger upon taking specific routes. The film then follows only two teachers, Reeboir (Bahman Ghobadi) and Said (Said Mohamadi).

Reeboir meets a group of preteens, who consider themselves as only mules, carrying illegal goods to the boarder. Kids reject his idea of teaching, but one accepts his proposal to teach while walking to the border. 

Said marrying Halaleh en route
Said, hopelessly exhausted after travelling from villages to villages looking for pupils, ends up with a group of elderly nomads looking for their bombarded village near the boarder. He offers them to teach reading and writing, but the clan struggling until their last breath to find their way to their village take him lightly. He settles with guiding them to their village in exchange of 40 walnuts. In the way, he marries Halaleh (Behnaz Jafari), the sole woman in the group, a widow with a young son, accepting to give his only belonging, the blackboard as dowry to her.

Samira Makhmalbaf
Directed by twenty years old Samira Makhmalbaf, Blackboards [2000] is a journey of hope in an epidemic. It narrates sociopolitical situation of Kurdish people and border residences through the journey of few jobless teachers. Actors have lived their roles very well. They look very ordinary and raw; at times one is influenced to check if they are real people living their difficult fate.

Makhmalbaf wrote this film with her father, renowned Irani filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film won Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival, 2000. Truly influential!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Do Bigha Zamin



In one famine inflicted village of Northern India, poor family of Shankar (Balraj Sahni) owns 2 bighas of land. Shankar's land is surrounded by a local landlord's acres of lands. The rich landlord, partnering with few rich businessmen, is planning to construct a big mill on his land. The landlord can achieve this dream of money showering mill only if Shankar sells his land to him.

Shankar is ruled by the court to pay the Landlord's debt as he does not comply with the landlord's offer to sell his land in exchange of the debt. If Shankar doesn't manage to clear his debt (sum of 235 rupees) in 3 months, his land goes for auction. He doesn't get loan in the village so he moves to the cruel city of Calcutta to look for a job. His misfortune doesn't seem to lessen as he spots his son inside the train following him to the city. Too late to return his son back home, Calcutta welcomes them with all the cruelties it could offer to them.


I was watching 'Do Bigha Zamin'  61 years after the production year. It didn't appear a lesser cinema to me although the time observed very few technological innovations. Unspoiled by technological tricks and powered by sincerity in its characters, Bimal Roy's Cannes Winner at International Category (1954) gripped me in its true to life plots. The strength of this socialist themed drama lies in its construction of narrative through organic sequences and twists. Plots have been created logically and woven together to represent an era highly infected by feudal system. Although melodramatic in most of high emotional points, the story does not feed one with exaggerated emotions and unnecessary texts common among dominant Indian cinemas.

Actors have well played their parts. Balraj Sahni as poor Shankar is outstanding and very accurate in his wretched character. Nirupa Roy portrays an ordinary village wife not too well because of her trained gestures. Son (Rattan Kumar) is not that memorable for his naive performance, but his shoe polisher friend  looks the one from street.

Highly influenced from neo - realist Italian cinemas, Do Bigha Zamin is considered trend setter in Indian parallel cinemas.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Matrubhoomi - a nation without women

Cruel but gutsy take on the killings of girl child in India. Written and directed by Manish Jha 
In a territory of India, girl child is killed as soon as it is born. Patriarchal taboos and dowry practices overtly affixes to this homicide of girl infants. Expectably, the territory populated by males highly suffers due to lack of females. Weddings become a rare practice. Social hazards like human trafficking, sexual violences, rapes, killings, pornography and homosexuality prevail. The Indian territory once worshipped as Matribhumi [mother's land] turns into a nation without women as a result of disrespect and violence endured by females..  

Matrubhoomi is quirkily cruel take on gender imbalance in India. It's a satirical parable to the future of some villages in India where girl child is either aborted or killed once it is born. Lots of moments in the film are  heartbreaking as the leading female suffers her fate in a perverted society.

The film lacks an anticipated strength as it loses the balance in storytelling once the latter part of the story gains more violent momentum in comparison to its quirky beginning. Most actions are overdone while intending to create humour and intensifying violence.  

Except for the leading female who is too neat for her character, others are very well selected and characterised.  Performances and dialogues are the strength of this film. The film is gutsy, but do lack a heart.