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Archive for the ‘Sachin Gandhi’s movie reviews’ Category

by Sachin Gandhi

West of the Tracks (Tie Qi Xu, 2003, Wang Bing): Parts I, II and III

Wang Bing is one of the best filmmakers working today yet his films are not as well known compared to other international film directors. One big reason has to do with accessibility of his films via legal channels. His films have been a fixture at many international film festivals but have found little distribution beyond the film festival circuit. Physical media of his films (DVD/Blu-Rays) are a rarity and until recently, many of his films weren’t available for streaming. Tracking down his debut film West of the Tracks was almost a seven year hunt for me.

I was first alerted to Wang Bing’s potential via a magnificent article by Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope where Koehler asks of Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks: “is there a more sublime debut in recent history?Thus began a hunt for that film but a DVD/Blu-Ray was out of sight. That changed in 2010 when a Rotterdam Film Festival issued DVD came out. I wasn’t the only one who came across that DVD in 2010. Allan Fish posted an entry on this site in 2010 as well.

West of the Tracks, divided in three parts, highlights the decline of the Tie Xi industrial sector in Northeast China. The film requires an investment of nine hours from its viewers but it rewards those patient viewers with plenty of riches. The three parts are a great example of “Direct Cinema” where the camera patiently records everything in sight and allows viewers to listen in to all the daily noises while leaving plenty of room for us to draw our own conclusions.

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by Sachin Gandhi

I have selected Francesco Rosi’s 1963 film Hands Over the City (Le Mani sulla città) because it is a film that feels contemporary despite being released almost 6 decades ago. Given the film’s topic of corruption and urban sprawl, it will always feel contemporary as long as politicians spend more time slinging mud at their rivals and lying to protect their crimes while letting innocent civilians suffer. The words “urban sprawl” are part of our everyday language yet it was Rosi’s film that gave an incisive look into how such a situation could occur. The city in Rosi’s film is his beloved Naples but as the film dives into the close connection between city planners, politicians, land developers and businessmen, it becomes evident that there is a universal aspect to the film.

The opening shots of Hands Over the City begin with a few aerial shots of Naples which highlight the city as a maze of buildings. After the opening minutes, we learn that it will get worse. That is because we are shown an informal meeting between a few businessmen who all want to profit from fast land development. The city council is about to propose expanding along the city’s core, which makes sense from an urban development point of view. But these businessmen and land developers want to build outside the city because the land is cheap and they can earn more profits in the future. The businessmen can get away with this because one of the leading land developers is also on the city’s board and he has a lot of friends on the council. The promise of fast money is enough to swing the votes in his direction. (more…)

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by Sachin Gandhi

I selected Cameroonian director Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Aristotles Plot because at its core, this film is about that vital debate of commercial vs artistic cinema, the blockbusters of Hollywood vs a nation’s local cinema. The film also offers the chance to discover a unique voice from African Cinema. Jean-Pierre Bekolo is not a well known name even though his debut 1992 film Quartier Mozart gained some recognition on the film festival circuit. The energetic and humorous Quartier Mozart combined folklore with some jaw-dropping moments. Still, the debut could not have prepared for what Bekolo attempted next in 1996 with Aristotles Plot.

At a running time of just 68 minutes, Aristotles Plot packs a lot of ideas and memorable dialogues about the meaning of cinema. The story features two characters on opposing side of the cinematic debate, a local gangster who consumes only Hollywood action films and a struggling independent filmmaker who wants people to care about African cinema. The gangster goes by the name of Cinema because he claims “he has watched 10,000” films. His rival is a filmmaker named Essomba Tourneur (E.T for short) who prefers to be called a Cineaste. The difference in view between the two is shown early in the film after Cinema claims to have seen 10,000 films, E.T counters and asks “oh yes, but how many of them were African?”. To which Cinema replies “very few” before going on to add that he doesn’t think much of African films. That debate about the worth of African cinema is repeated on a few occasions and highlights that locals flock to Hollywood films but stay away from African cinema. Even a local policeman claims to have never seen a single African film but is aware of Hollywood stars. (more…)

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by Sachin Gandhi

Allan Fish was a pure cinephile who spent countless hours hunting down precious films from all corners of the world. He wrote about many such discoveries at The Fish Obscuro section on Wonders in the Dark. Of the many titles he covered, one that sticks to my mind is the 1964 Brazilian film Noite Vazia by Walter Hugo Khouri. This is a remarkable film whose discovery I owe solely to Allan. The film is unlike any of the other Brazilian films of the Cinema Novo that I have seen and is far from the rugged Brazilian landscapes of Glauber Rocha’s cinema. In fact, Noite Vazia feels closer to the sentiment of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.

In order to pay tribute to Allan’s review of Noite Vazia, I opted for Marcelo Gomes’ Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures. This selection brings Brazil, Italy and England together from my perspective. Marcelo Gomes’ thoughtful Brazilian road film reminded me of Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore. As for the English connection, I discovered this film at the BFI London Film Festival which was the first international film festival I travelled to. The film and the BFI London festival kickstarted my love for global cinema and film festivals, a path that eventually led me to find this website and get to know Sam and Allan.

The road film has a special place in cinema and over the decades we have seen some stellar films all set on the road where the main character takes a journey in their car or a motorcycle. The act of taking the journey on a long road leads to a transformation and a change in the character. Sometimes the character goes looking for change in order to escape from their current life. This aspect certainly applies to Johann (Peter Ketnath) in Marcelo Gomes’ film. Johann is a German who has moved to Brazil to escape the conflict back home. He makes a living by driving across the vast Brazilian countryside selling Aspirin, a new medicine as per the film’s setting in 1942. It would have been difficult for Johann to sell aspirin to people used to rejecting change but he comes up with a clever sales tactic of using the alluring cinematic medium to make his sales. This is where Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures has shades of Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Star Maker albeit with a slight variation. In The Star Maker, the salesman is a cheat but in Gomes’ film, Johann is not a cheat even though his methods portray him as a mercenary. Along the way, Johann picks up a local (Ranulpho played by João Miguel) who wishes to leave his village life behind and head to Rio. The two become good friends and Ranulpho travels along with Johann by working as his assistant. But then the War that Johann escaped from finds its way to Brazil and Johann has a difficult choice to make – to return to Europe or continue his free spirited way. The movie shows how different people’s idea of freedom varies and what makes one person happy can be torture for another.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the cinematography. Gomes and cinematographer Mauro Pinheiro Jr. overexposed the 35mm film reels thereby creating a bleached look to the film. Watching the film in a movie theatre conveyed the heat and brutality of the scorching Brazilian countryside. Unfortunately, this striking aspect of the visuals doesn’t come across in the online version of the film as the colours are muted and not as sharp as they were in the cinema. Still, it is a film worth viewing in any manner whatsoever.

Film Link

English Subtitles: The original English subtitles are not present with the film but you can select the Auto-translate subtitles feature by clicking on the Settings Icon. This does mean that the auto-translated English subtitles are not as good as the official released version.

 

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2ikarie-xb1

by Sachin Gandhi

Jindrich Polák’s IKARIE XB 1 (1963) is one of the most significant Science fiction films ever made yet it is also relatively unknown even though its fingerprints can be found on numerous Sci-fi works such as Gene Roddenberry’s STAR TREK series (1966), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and even INTERSTELLAR (2014). In many ways, IKARIE XB 1 laid the template for future sci-fi works, especially regarding the interior spaceship design and multi-national crew, elements that are associated with STAR TREK. Michael Brooke has noted in his IKARIE XB 1 essay that both Gene Roddenberry and Stanley Kubrick had viewed Polák’s film while researching for their works. However, there appears to be more than simple set design that is borrowed from IKARIE XB 1. The camera movements and shots in IKARIE XB 1 around the spaceship command centre/bridge, corridors/hallways and outside the ship have been used in many other films over the decades. In addition, the depiction of crew dynamics and psychology of some crew members is another memorable aspect of IKARIE XB 1, although credit for that can be attributed in part to Stanislaw Lem.

The names of Pavel Jurácek, Jindrich Polák are listed in the screenplay credits of IKARIE XB 1 but the movie is based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem as noted by Allan Fish in his memorable 2015 essay. Lem’s novel ‘Solaris’ is his more famous film adaptation but ‘The Magellan Nebula’ adapted into IKARIE XB 1 deserves worthy praise for exploring the dynamics of a multi-racial/multi-national crew consisting of both sexes and different age groups. Stanislaw Lem is known for his Science fiction writing but he also wrote non-fiction which brimmed with ideas about technology, artificial intelligence (although Lem called it “Intellectronics”), virtual reality (Lem called it “Phantomology”) and man’s place in the universe. Therefore, it is not a surprise that his work helped lay the groundwork for future Sci-fi films which showed machines/computers taking control and humans ultimately losing their mind on board a spaceship. The latter is something shown in IKARIE XB-1, although it takes place long after the music and dancing has stopped, long after all communication has ceased. (more…)

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the_truman_show_image

by Sachin Gandhi

Many ideas in Science fiction films may appear far fetched when the film is first released yet over time, some of those ideas end up becoming far more believable due to technological advances or changes in our society. For example, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY depicted computer devices which allowed one to read information from around the world, including newspaper articles. Such a device may have seemed unbelievable back in 1968 when the film was released but now laptops and the internet are commonplace. Similarly, the immense popularity of a reality tv show as presented in THE TRUMAN SHOW didn’t seem that plausible back in 1998 even though there were a few examples of such shows that already existed when the film was released such as MTV’s THE REAL WORLD. However, THE TRUMAN SHOW appeared to take the idea of a reality show too far. The film depicted a young baby born and raised entirely in front of the world via a 24 hour non-stop television show created by Christof (Ed Harris). 1.7 million people witnessed the birth of Truman Burbank and the audience kept climbing as Truman grew up into an adult (Jim Carrey). Truman lives and works entirely in the world’s largest constructed TV set, a fictional town called Seahaven, where all the other inhabitants are actors and extras employed with the sole purpose of assisting Truman as he goes about his ‘real’ life. When the film first came out, it appeared unrealistic that people would devote hundreds of hours watching Truman do mundane everyday tasks. But now in 2016, THE TRUMAN SHOW appears to have foreseen our current television landscape which is populated by hundreds of reality tv shows which depict ordinary people going about their daily activities or in some cases, taking part in a contest on a constructed set. On top of that, the rise of social media and smartphones has allowed far more reality to be presented non-stop either as entertainment or a form of news. Today, reality is always available, in one shape or form.

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district9_image

by Sachin Gandhi

“To everyone’s surprise, the ship didn’t come to a stop…over Manhattan or Washington or Chicago..but instead coasted to a halt directly over the city of Johannesburg.

These opening words quickly establish that District 9 is going to be a much different film than other Science fiction alien movies that appear at the multiplex where the spaceship only stops over an American city. The shift to South Africa lays the groundwork for a film that explores complex issues related to politics, racism and is not content with being just another Sci-fi movie that is a battle between aliens and humans.

District 9 opens in a mockumentary fashion and interviews a few people who outline the early days of the alien arrival. The spaceship arrived back in 1982 and halted over Johannesburg. We learn that for 3 months the spaceship didn’t do anything, just remained suspended over the city. There was no first contact, no bright lights or any other events depicted in other Sci-fi films. It was humans who had to fly up to the spaceship and force entry. Once inside the spaceship, humans found malnourished aliens, creatures that were lean and starving. The appearance of the aliens as physically weak in District 9 is a deviation from conventional films. In other Sci-fi films and TV Shows, aliens are always shown to be strong and in some cases beautiful even if the aliens are arriving from a planet with no resources (food/water). (more…)

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embrace_of_the_serpent

“Embrace of the Serpent” is Sachin Gandhi’s #1 film of 2015

 by Sachin Gandhi
Note:  Sachin Gandhi’s remarkable end-of-the-year presentation is unique in many ways, but in the realm of art house it is incomparable.  Gandhi is a close friend and associate, and the proctor of the fabulous blog, “Scribbles and Ramblings.”  This is the first list that has posted at Wonders in the Dark:
In contrast to previous years, this year’s best film list consists solely of films released in this calendar year, even if that means a film got only a single screening at an international film festival. There are no older 2013, 2014 titles even if they only got local theatrical screenings this year. As always, film festivals provide the bulk of the movies in this list. Out of the top 10, only 2 films got a regular theatrical run in the city and only one of those titles was released outside of the film festival circuit. The film festival circuit continues to be a wonderful parallel distribution network. Many independent and foreign films only live on the film festival circuit. Once their festival run ends, some of these films disappear for good. Some lucky ones get life via legal digital streams. Some others don’t even appear on torrents.
The regular theatrical release cycle continues to be dominated by commercial studio films while independent local and foreign cinema struggle to get screen time. If a city does not have a Cinematheque or an Arthouse cinema, then chances are, there will be limited chances to see independent and foreign films in a cinema. The contrast between studio and foreign cinema was perfectly highlighted on Dec 18. On that day, there were 99 shows of STAR WARS in local cinemas while one of the arthouses had a single show of DHEEPAN, the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. This is the 1% vs 99% battle in terms of contemporary cinema. A film that wins the top prize at Cannes is certainly going to be distributed but films that don’t win at Cannes or get much festival love will struggle to get even a single show, even if they are worthy films. Great cinema is still being made even though it is getting harder to see in a local theater.
2015 saw the release of films by multiple Asian masters. 5 of those films make this top 10, while Jia Zhang-Ke misses out with his emotionally beautiful MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART. There are still many films that I need to catch up on, especially ARABIAN NIGHTS, THE PEARL BUTTON, THE TREASURE, OFFICE, THE EVENT. For all those missed titles, there are many more that I was fortunate to have seen. Here are my Top 10 films of 2015, followed by 16 honorable mentions.

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800_the_red_balloon_blu-ray2x

by Sachin Gandhi

A balloon floating up in the sky still manages to catch everyone’s attention! Some will express sadness at seeing the balloon floating away, at the thought that there is a child nearby who is crying at seeing their precious balloon fly away. Despite all the technological advancements and flashing gadgets we have in society, a balloon is still an essential part of a child’s life. No birthday party would be complete without the presence of balloons. In fact, balloons complete a birthday party. This love of balloons would have made Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon an easy film to be included in a childhood countdown. However, the film is present on merit in the Wonders in the Dark Childhood Countdown because it is more than just about a balloon. In its short running time of 35 minutes, The Red Balloon encapsulates all of life, including all emotions associated with a child’s growth from an early age to that of a teenager. More importantly, the film’s style, without dialogue, and story make this a timeless work that is also the purest form of cinema. The film is a beautiful blend of documentary, art and commercial cinema. In addition, the template for many contemporary films, including Hollywood animation movies, can be traced all the way back to Lamorisse’s beautifully conceived short film.

The Red Balloon starts off with young Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse, the director’s son) finding a balloon tied up to a street lamp. Once he climbs up and gets the balloon, Pascal doesn’t let go and holds the string tightly, just like any child would. He goes everywhere with the balloon even opting to walk all the way to school as his balloon is not allowed on the streetcar. When he returns home, the caretaker is not happy with the balloon’s presence and goes to the balcony and releases it into the air. The balloon being sent into the air would be a child’s worst nightmare; the crushing feeling of seeing their cherished balloon disappearing. As it turns out, the balloon hovers outside the balcony, waiting for Pascal. It doesn’t take long for Pascal to figure out that the balloon can move up and down, follow him around and even obey, much like a trained pet would. This increases Pascal’s attachment with the balloon beyond the initial discovery of a toy. The balloon now becomes Pascal’s trusted companion, his only true friend, one with whom he passes his time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for other boys to be jealous of Pascal’s possession and they try their best to take the balloon away. When their initial efforts fail, they mount an ambush, overpower Pascal and crush the balloon. The death of the balloon sets off a magical element around Paris, as balloons of all colours and sizes free themselves from their owners clutches and gather to mourn the death of the red balloon. Pascal is excited to see all these balloons and grabs as many strings as he can. The balloons then fly off with Pascal, far away into the horizon, likely to a magical place, free of bullies and evil kids. (more…)

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locke_image by Sachin Gandhi

Like most years, my end of the year list is highly dependent on film festivals which serve as an unofficial distribution model for a majority of foreign and independent movies. However, despite the best efforts of multiple local film festivals, there is still usually an average of a 1-2 year wait to see many foreign films after its Cannes premiere. For example, a few Cannes 2013 titles only appeared in local cinemas this year. A big reason for this delay is that film distribution still follows an outdated model where films are meant to get a theatrical release first before releasing online or on DVD. This release model ignores the reality that there are only a few North American cities with dedicated arthouse/indie cinemas to give these foreign films a proper theatrical run. That means if one does not live in New York or Toronto, then it is a long wait to legally see these festival films. This delay causes a year end list to continuously look back 1-2 years for a proper assessment. For example, this year’s theatrical releases proved that 2013 was an even better year than I had first thought. A full verdict on 2014 may only be properly gauged in the summer of 2015. The other impact of this delay is that local cinemas are not my prime source for catching some of the best global films. For example, only 5 films of the 22 films (23%) in this list got a regular theatrical run in the city. A majority of this list was composed due to the 8 film festivals I attended this year, with 7 local festivals and the 8th being Sundance. 4 of the films in this list were seen at Sundance, while a 5th title, Locke, also showed there. Such a high dependence on international film festivals to catch some of the best films in the world is not a financially feasible model. And local film festivals can’t always show the top festival films every year either. Still, I am grateful to have seen many worthy features and documentaries. (more…)

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