A Wednesday is a mystery-thriller with a plot that provides some forward propulsion, and lots of showy camerawork and 70s-TV music to keep us awake. There's not much new here ... a mystery person sets up bombs across Mumbai and demands the release of terrorists. This was Neeraj Pandey's first film ... I haven't seen the others, but he has established a solid career. Anupam Kher is good as the police commissioner, as is Naseeruddin Shah as the mystery man. The truth is, I'm striving to think of memorable moments from A Wednesday, and I only saw it a couple of hours ago.
(Note that this is based on the Sight and Sound list from 10 years ago. The most recent list hadn't been released at the time the challenge was created.)
It takes me awhile to get to things sometimes. Back in 2011, I took part with two friends in a long Facebook effort where we chose our 50 favorite films. I vowed at the time that I would watched every movie my friends chose that I had missed over the years. One of those selections was The Apu Trilogy, which one friend had at #15. I watched Pather Panchali in 2016, and Aparajito in 2020 (as part of an earlier Letterboxd challenge). Now, a dozen years later, I have completed the trilogy!
About the first, I wrote:
"It is easy to see why Pather Panchali is so highly regarded. But ultimately, for me, it falls into the category of “admired more than loved”. Maybe the languid pace gave me too much time to think, but I wasn’t as drawn in emotionally as I expected. It’s importance in Indian and World cinema is clear, and I have no problem recommending it. I just wish I had felt more sucked into its pleasures.
And Aparajito: "I finally started understanding why the films have such a high reputation."
The World of Apu completes my experience with these films, and my feelings remain pretty consistent. Like the other movies in the trilogy, The World of Apu has wonderful cinematography (Subrata Mitra was in charge of all three). Apu is far from a perfect person ... Ray gives us a well-rounded portrait throughout, where we understand what drives him even when we don't necessarily approve of his actions. And once again, Ray has chosen the right people to play his characters. Soumitra Chatterjee makes his film debut as Apu. He went on to make hundreds of films, 14 with Ray. And Sharmila Tagore, also in her debut, is unforgettable as Apu's young wife of an arranged marriage. Tagore was only 14 when the movie was filmed, but her youth adds to the poignancy of the character, who is also young.
I remain an admirer more than a lover of this trilogy. But it's quite an achievement, to make three connected films, all of a high quality.
Well, it had to happen. The whole point of Geezer Cinema is that my wife and I, in our retirement, make a weekly date to watch a movie, taking turns choosing. We've been doing this for more than 3 1/2 years now, as we approach our 70th birthdays. So this week, my wife took a little time about her choice, and finally came up with The Little Things, from 2021. It's just the kind of movie she picks: mystery about a serial killer, starring Denzel Washington. In fact, we have proof it's the kind of movie she picks, because she also picked it back in 2021. This week marks the 177th Geezer Movie, and I'm surprised it's taken us this long to forget we'd seen a previous choice.
So, my wife went back to the drawing board, and chose The Girl on the Train, with Emily Blunt and an interesting supporting cast. Blunt plays Rachel, divorced fairly recently and not doing to well adapting. She lives with her sister, she drinks too much, and on her commute each day she looks out the train window at the home she used to live in, where her ex-husband now resides with a new wife and a kid. The screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) lets us share Rachel's confusion, and the plot twists are surprising enough, to me at least. Rachel is a mess, and as she looks out her train window she imagines the lives of the women she sees are much happier and calmer than her own. The more she learns about those women, though, the more she realizes she isn't the only troubled woman in the world.
Emily Blunt is powerful throughout ... she plays a great drunk, her eyes often glazed over but with a hidden intelligence that lets you know she is eventually going to get to the bottom of things. How much you enjoy the movie depends on how much you buy into the plot. I was engrossed, never bored, but never really engaged, and the time shifts seemed designed more to keep us in the dark than to help tell the story. But your mileage may vary.
All That Breathes is a documentary that can be described simply, but that would miss the point. It is about two brothers in New Delhi who rescue birds, black kites to be exact. On that level, it's an interesting and informative work. But it's about a lot more than just rescuing birds.
There is unrest, always in the distance, yet never seeming to be far away. The air is so polluted that birds fall from the sky. The ground doesn't seem much better ... early on, we see rats overrunning a area filled with, well, a little of everything. The trick Shaunak Sen uses is that none of this is foregrounded. Throughout the film, Sen focuses on the brothers, working out of their basement, searching for funding for a hospital, imagining a future outside of New Delhi. You are always aware of the unrest and the pollution and the ways everything is connected, because Sen never lets us forget, even while what we are seeing is primarily the brothers.
The film features some lovely cinematography, and we get to know the brothers, Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud, as the movie progresses. There is always something interesting going on, although much of it is depressing. The brothers know their work is a drop in the bucket, but they go on, for what else is there to do except try to better the circumstances of their environment.
I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:
What a magnificent movie! It's totally insane, it's three hours long but never boring, it is an action extravaganza as well as a musical, it's everything all at once, to refer to the only other 2022 movie I've seen that is this good.
Rajamouli tells the entirely fictional story of two historical revolutionaries who never met in real life. It's hard to say RRR came out of nowhere ... it is Rajamouli's 12th feature, co-stars N. T. Rama Rao Jr. (NTR) and Ram Charan are huge, award-winning stars, as is fellow cast member Alia Bhatt. It's the most expensive Indian film of all time. It's a box-office smash, and now it's a hit on Netflix. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was supposed to be good. That turned out to be an understatement.
The stars bring great charisma to their roles. Rajamouli's plot is always engrossing, even when it makes little sense. The special effects are remarkable. The essential conflict of the two men at the center of the picture is told with great feeling. And it's often extremely funny, with a handful of expansive musical numbers we expect from Indian cinema. And there are a couple of "Hey, it's that guys!", like Ray Stevenson (always Titus Pullo at our house) and former Bond Girl Alison Doody.
RRR has some violent scenes, which may prevent some from wanting to see it. Everyone else, though, should check it out whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.
"Parallel cinema, or New Indian Cinema, was a film movement in Indian cinema that originated in the state of West Bengal in the 1950s as an alternative to the mainstream commercial Indian cinema.
Inspired by Italian Neorealism, Parallel Cinema began just before the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave, and was a precursor to the Indian New Wave of the 1960s. The movement was initially led by Bengali cinema and produced internationally acclaimed filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and others. It later gained prominence in other film industries of India.
It is known for its serious content, realism and naturalism, symbolic elements with a keen eye on the sociopolitical climate of the times, and for the rejection of inserted dance-and-song routines that are typical of mainstream Indian films."
This was a good challenge for me, because I am woefully uneducated about Indian cinema. I've seen a handful of Satyajit Ray movies and a Bollywood movie or two, but I had never heard of New Indian Cinema, and didn't know any of the notable directors outside of Ray. I have no idea if The Cloud-Capped Star is indicative of the work of Ritwik Ghatak, or Parallel cinema in general, but it's an impressive movie on its own.
The Cloud-Capped Star reminded me of many other films. The heroine, Neeta, played by Supriya Choudhury, a legend in Bengali cinema who was new to me, suffers so much she could have been the central figure in a Lars von Trier movie. Neeta is too kind, too willing to put others ahead of herself. Ghatak often uses close-ups that seem like they came from silent movies. The faces tell us so much, even when the character is not speaking, but the acting styles are modern, not overdone as can be the case in silents. Only a small portion of the film takes place in the city, but when it does, it is reminiscent of the way real locations were used in the French New Wave:
Also, Ghatak gets eerie passages by his use of sound. If shooting in a natural setting seems "real", his use of sound is often surreal:
All of this may remind us of other movies, but the combination is unique. The Cloud-Capped Star is engrossing on many levels, and an eye-opener into the world of Bengali cinema beyond Satyajit Ray.
This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 9 is called Ray, Ray, Ray, or Wray Week:
One of my favorite running bits, this challenge is a superficial as it seems. There's little that ties these films together, except for the inclusion of folks with similar names. If for nothing else, it allows for a nice range of selection, so finding something you're interested in watching shouldn't be too hard.
P.S. I know Satyajit's is technically pronounced like "rye", but just shhhjustgowithitshhh.
Yes, it takes me forever to get to requests. I keep a list ... it's pretty long ... and eventually I'll get to them all. Aparajito wasn't really a request. It dates back to when Phil Dellio, Jeff Pike, and I did a Fifty Favorite Films project on Facebook. At the time, I told myself I was going to watch all of the movies I hadn't seen that were on Phil or Jeff's list. I've done pretty well over the years ... I only have two more to go on each list. In Phil's case, that's really 1 1/3 to go, because one of his 50 was the Apu Trilogy. A few years after the project, I finally saw the first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali, and now, more than four years later, I've seen the second. At this rate, I'll get to the third film in 2024.
I said about Pather Panchali, "It falls into the category of 'admired more than loved'. Maybe the languid pace gave me too much time to think, but I wasn’t as drawn in emotionally as I expected." The first part of Aparajito, which picks up soon after the first film, has a similar feel. After the father dies, there is some new tension, as the mother needs to figure out how to continue the lives of her and her son. When Smaran Ghosal takes over the part of Apu from Pinaki Sen Gupta when Apu reaches adolescence, the film changes more than just the actors. Apu goes to school, which begins a separation from his mother, and later goes to Kolkata to further his studies, leaving his mother to live alone. Karuna Banerjee brings a soulfulness to the mother ... her sad eyes tell an infinite story on their own. And Ray isn't afraid to milk the emotion, which means I was finally drawn in to that side of the tale. Aparajito is a big story about tradition and progress, told on an intimate level as the story of a mother and her son. Ray doesn't exactly pick a side ... you can't stop progress. But we feel the mother's sadness as equal to the pleasures Apu finds in a larger world.
Ray uses long takes, but the scenes are often short, as if we were learning the story of these people in a piecemeal way. In the second half of the movie, I finally started understanding why the films have such a high reputation. #581 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
1917 is a movie with a trick. It's a technical trick, and it isn't always clear that it serves the picture as well as a more ordinary approach might. But the trick is so well done that you can't help but admire it, even though, paradoxically, the film works best when you forget about the trick.
That trick is to make 1917 appear to be shot in one take. You can't help but notice it at the beginning, when the two heroes are making their way through a long trench (1917 is a World War I story). But as the heroes encounter increasingly dangerous happenings, you occasionally forget about the one-take angle. I don't want to say the movie is at its best in those moments ... the technical achievements really are remarkable. But what raises 1917 above the level of a novelty is the acting, in particular that of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as the heroes. There is plenty of war horror, but Chapman and especially MacKay are the human element. That is what makes 1917 more than a trick.
1917 is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The cinematography award will surely go to Roger Deakins, and the film is worthy of many of the other Oscar categories. The narrative draws us in, and we really want the end to resemble a happy one. The movie is often hard to watch; it's not exactly entertaining, although this is appropriate for a war movie. But after two hours, we feel like we deserve a little something as we leave the theater.
What I especially liked is the way the trickery is human rather than CGI. You know that real people pulled this off. It's a bit like what makes Fury Road so much better than other recent action pictures.
World War I was one of the stupidest and most brutal wars, even given that all wars are stupid and brutal. 1917 doesn't stop to notice this ... no historical context is provided, and a lot of the brutality lies on the ground as the heroes make their trek. It might have been a better movie if such context were at least hinted at. Certainly it would be different. But the accomplishment of Mendes, Deakins and the rest isn't to be denied.
Phil Dellio had the Apu Trilogy at #15 when we did our top 50 fave movies a few years back, so I’m only fulfilling 1/3 of the request so far. I’m surprised I had never seen these movies before, but I am woefully behind on Ray, having only seen Charulata in the early 70s and The Music Room more recently. The Apu Trilogy has been restored, so I was able to record all three films, and the other two will follow eventually.
Ray was encouraged by Jean Renoir when the latter was in India making The River, and you can see some of Renoir’s feel for the basic humanity of his characters in Pather Panchali. There is so much to admire about this film, but the treatment of the characters might be the best part, for Ray doesn’t judge them for their poverty. He used a lot of non-professional actors ... hell, he was a non-professional, the first day he spent making a movie was the first day of this film. This was reportedly also true for Subrata Mitra, the photographer-turned-cinematographer. Honestly, there were so many road blocks to the making of Pather Panchali that it’s hard to believe all of them are true. Perhaps my favorite (this comes from the IMDB): it took some years to complete the film, which features a young boy (Apu), and young girl (his sister), and a very old woman (the village “Auntie”). Ray said all three were part of the miraculous completion of the film: the young boy’s voice did not break, the young girl didn’t grow up, and the old woman didn’t die.
About that old woman. She is the damnedest thing. She was played by Chunibala Devi, who was born in 1872 and had been in a few films in the 1930s. While she lived through the filming, she died before the movie’s release. She is so old, and it’s clearly not a trick of makeup ... Devi is stooped over into a hunchback, she is missing most of her teeth (and her hair), she can barely walk. But she’s a sharp cookie (not just the character, but Devi, who impressed Ray when they first met). As Phil wrote, “you will literally never encounter anyone else remotely like her in any other film.”
The film looks beautiful. I don’t think it romanticizes poverty, but we are aware of the pleasures of the land. Ray takes his time, both as a storyteller and in the film making as a whole ... there are long takes that he is content to let run. It is a peaceful film, except when the realities of the characters’ poverty hit home.
It is easy to see why Pather Panchali is so highly regarded, and I will watch the other two movies in the trilogy. But ultimately, for me, it falls into the category of “admired more than loved”. Maybe the languid pace gave me too much time to think, but I wasn’t as drawn in emotionally as I expected. It’s importance in Indian and World cinema is clear, and I have no problem recommending it. I just wish I had felt more sucked into its pleasures. #59 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.