Abbas Kiarostami – A Tribute

As I sat down to write the tribute for Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away two days ago, all I could think of is “just watch his films”. It is not as simple as it might sound, putting someone’s lifetime efforts in words. Struggling for words to describe their work is always the most justified response to the brilliance and genius that they brought to our world. As he leaves us, it is only duty of us to “slow down, pause and appreciate the beauty of art on a frame.”

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The common question that a filmmaker or artist from any part of the world had to encounter at some point in their career is “Does the art reflect the society or does it affect the society?”. To put in simple terms “Are our stories on frame or canvas taken from the society?” or “Are our stories on frame or canvas meant to feedback into the society?”

Abbas Kiarostami explains it rather straight forward, with no second thoughts. “There is nothing invented or created by the filmmaker or an artist. The artist takes only what naturally occurs in the Universe and visually narrate a story that we, do not pause to experience in its right form”. His movies explain how he stands by this philosophy.

Calling himself as “unplanned filmmaker”, Abbas revolutionized the Iranian Cinema. My first association with Iranian cinema comes from Jafar Panahi when I saw his “Taxi”, “Closed Curtain” and “This is not a Film”. As a simple movie enthusiast from India, my exposure to world cinema is limited to film festival movie list. But, I must agree that Jafar Panahi played a huge role in my understanding of Iranian Cinema. He himself is a student of Abbas and his style of filmmaking cannot be completely differentiated from his master.

As I explored the world of Iranian cinema, there is no escaping the visuals of Abbas Kiarostami. The first film I saw of him is “Like Someone in Love” and I was blown away by it. Then I watched the four movies which were termed as part of “Koker Trilogy” and “Taste of Cherry”. Most of the present generation filmmakers from advanced privileged industries often struggle to make “pure storytelling” as the base of their films. They have often carried away with the availability of technology so much, where the underlying story gets lost in the way.

This is the beauty of Iranian cinema. With the excellence work of narrators such as Abbas and Jafar, the stories form the core center of the movie and these stories could as well be the story of your friend or yourself. Your desire as a kid to watch a soccer game, your compassion towards your friend who probably might lose his life during the earthquake and your struggle to get a basic education form the premise of their works. His work is mainly centered around children and these characters of children extend their roles in follow-up movies.

For instance, the child you watch through his trilogy is the same, seen through the eyes of multiple characters and operate in an ever changing world around him.

Having children at the epicenter of your film is not only interesting but immensely challenging. “Children are not there (in the movie) for fame or money. They are there on a specific agreement between you and them. If you step out their agreement zone, they are no longer there. They are out of it. You can never get them back once u lose them”

His way of filmmaking is not rule book based. It was straight from his heart. His lead actors are from the real world and their conflicts are real. The only thing that is not real is the touch of it. You might not be able to touch and sense the characters but you are already experiencing their world.

His love and inspiration, as he many times stated, comes from Jean-Luic Godard, Akira Kurosawa, Chris Marker, Poet Rumi and the New York City. This is what Akira Kurosawa had to say about his films.

Akira Kurosawa, the greatest filmmaker himself, speaks of Kiarostami’s films as:

“Words cannot describe my feelings about them … When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing Kiarostami’s films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to take his place.”

As a regular Indian film viewer, the movies of Satyajit Ray were an eye opener for the experimental style of filmmaking it was and to follow it up with the works of Akira Kurosawa and Abbas Kiarostami only makes it difficult to appreciate the work of others.

But, what these filmmakers leave us with is not a discussion on which style of filmmaking is better than the other but the ability to acknowledge varied styles of filmmaking. After all, the sole aim of any art form’s is to interpret the world around us in a more artistic way that you often try to escape from.

Abbas Kiarostami – You will be remembered as a genius who accomplished his task in this universe with a brilliance that could only spread across the geographies and generations. May your Soul Rest in Piece!

Image Courtesy: Indiewire.com

Maheshinte Prathikaram (The Revenge of Mahesh)

It is not always easy to outshine as a screenwriter or director when you have a brilliant actor cast for the lead role. But, Dileesh Pothan (Director) and Syam Pushkaran (Writer) wins many brownie points over Fahadh Faasil.

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“Your revenge had outgrown your being and you are totally engulfed by it”

This is the moment of self-actualization that closes any movie with revenge as its central theme – from “The Revenant” to “Badlapur”. Maheshinte Prathikaram (The Revenge of Mahesh) takes a completely opposite route to it.

Yes, a mishap happens.

Yes, he vows revenge – this time to not wear slippers till he fulfills his revenge.

Yes, he chases him

But, this time, he does other things in parallel to preparing himself for the day he takes revenge – such as learn the meaning of true photography, fall in love (irony huh?)- and the day it comes for revenge, he doesn’t stay back and teach morals. He walks straight head on seeking revenge and wins it.

Maheshinte Prathikaram is poetic in multiple ways -but you need to sit through the initial vocal adjustment to engulf yourself in the essence of poetic rendition. There are three major instances in this movie that absolutely belong to the director and the screenwriter. As an actor or as an audience, all you could do is let your guard down and bow in respect.

The lead-up to the conflict that enrages Mahesh (probably reminds you of ‘butterfly effect’ or ‘chain reaction’), the father of his lady love discusses their wedding and the actualization of revenge are the perfect examples of what can be accomplished with brilliant writing.

This will be the fifth movie of Syam Pushkaran as the script writer that I watched -Salt N Pepper, 22 Female Kottayam, Iyobinte Pusthakam, Rani Padmini and now, Maheshinte Pusthakam. I am still waiting for the day to be disappointed by his writing. I hope the day would never come.

The brilliance of Dileesh Pothan is as much as what he conceived in the movie to as much that he had to let go. The movie traces the absolute path- no deviation- just follow the rail track. The moment you snapped, you are derailed – but Dileesh never left his driver’s seat.

Fahadh Faasil is a brilliant actor, no questions about it. This year, I also watched his movie “Monsoon Mangoes”, a disappointing experience, which demanded his brilliant acting skills to pull the movie through. But, in “Maheshinte Prathikaram”, it is being as subtle as he could and let Dileesh do the steering. Even though this movie doesn’t require him to go all-in as he did for “Iyobinte Pusthakam” or let only his face do the talking as he did for “Akam” – according to me, this stands in his top 5 best performances so far.

Bijibal is coming off from a tiring 2015 during which he worked for 15 films. But, this might be his easiest and quickest till date. Four songs – 10 minutes – all run in the background- stick to strengths (melody)- Done with.

Overall, ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram’ might not be a “Must-Watch” but you are going to miss something if you don’t watch it.

Language: Malayalam

Director: Dileesh Pothan

Run Time: 140 mins

Release Date: 05 Feb 2016

CBFC Rating: “U”

Writer: Syam Pushkaran

Cinematography: Shyju Khalid

Editor: Saiju Sreedharan

Music: Bijibal

Production: OPM (Aashiq Abu)

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America is not necessarily a good versus bad movie but a rather consent versus dissent kind of movie. Captain America: Civil War is doing tremendous box office business across the world and deservedly so. Because, this might not be the perfect superhero (or heroes) movie but it could easily be right up there.

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The instant reaction after you watch Marvel’s latest offering “Captain America: Civil War” is, if Marvel Superheroes pit against DC Superheroes, there is no way DC could win the contest. If not for their ability, but for the sheer number of heroes.

Captain America: Civil War brings in almost every superhero in Marvel’s portfolio excluding “Thor” and “Hulk”. This also marks the multi-hero debut for “Spider Man” and “The Black Panther”. When there are so many powerful people sitting across the discussion table, it would more likely end up being chaos and further catastrophe, no matter how ideal the topic or intentions could have been. But, the Russo siblings might have just got the equations perfectly right. They not only managed to avoid catastrophe but even managed to make an ‘almost’ perfect superhero movie.

“Civil War” is not necessarily a good versus bad movie but a rather consent versus dissent kind of movie. Superheroes are meant to protect the public across the world. But, what happens if the protector causes more destruction than the actual destroyer. This is the basic premise above which the plot of Civil War had been written.

Whenever Captain America is in picture, it is absolutely impossible to put politics out of equation. So, the movie sets itself up with the meeting between 117 countries to draft accords to move Avengers from being a private entity to a sovereign governed body. This could be both good and bad depending on what side of the table you are on.

You would expect Captain America who characteristically operates under the command of United States to take a stand pro-accords and Tony Stark, the multi-billionaire lavish lifestyle ego centric (as established in many Marvel movies so far) to the counter stance. But, in “Civil War”, the sides taken were quite opposite and the reasoning behind it was the only background that you should be aware of. And guess what, that is exactly what you would know- nothing more.

There are as many as 12 superheroes (with at least ten individual movies among them) in the movie taking either side of the table to begin with. Since, the conflict is not revenge driven but ideology driven, the loyalties are not forever and so you see them switching sides to help their friends. At the end, you are not fighting against your enemy but your friend. So, focus on the mission and not the man – is the message that is sent out loud and clear.

Before you ask, here is how the teams split:

Team Iron Man: Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, War Machine

Team Captain America: Captain America, Falcon, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Hawk Eye, Scarlet Witch

One of the key success drivers for “Captain America: Civil War” is the way these super heroes enter into conflict. Some of them are in for revenge, some to support friends, some to be loyal and some eager to join the big league. What happens when so many friends meet on a war field, they might fight but they shake hands. So, does everyone in this. Shake Hand and Punch.

The biggest surprise however is Tom Holland. He is a total outsider among the big league of super heroes (or super stars). This would probably be one of the best written and performed stints for “Spider-Man” (no offense to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield). Tom Holland takes the major portion of the pink pie and cherry along with it.

Overall, “Captain America: Civil War” goes all-in with the super heroes and emerges even shinier.

Language: English

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Run Time: 147 mins

Release Date: 06 May 2016 (US)

Rating: PG -13

Writer: Mark Milliar (Comics); Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus (Screen)

Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch

Editor: Jeffrey Ford

Composer: Henry Jackman

Production: Marvel Studios

IMDB: 8.5 | Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (09 May 2016)