Thursday, 3 July 2014

Abhijan (1962)

  'Abhijan' (The Expedition) is a 1962 Indian film directed by Satyajit Ray.

  Narsingh is a taxi driver, who gets fired from his firm for dangerous driving. He decides to travel, with his loyal taxi-partner Rama, to his ancestorial homeland of Rajput, when on the way he meets a merchant (Sukharam). The merchant persuades him to stay in the town, due to there being no taxi service. He becomes friends with a Christian school teacher but mistakes her friendly personality for true love.

  Satyajit Ray is an amazing film-maker, who is thought of as a legend in India. He showed Indian cinema to the world with the wonderful 'Pather Pachali', and continued to make great films until his death in 1992. Ray was awarded an honorary Oscar months before his death, which is well-deserved, especially because he made a total of 36 films. It's a shame I haven't seen many of his films (only the Apu trilogy), so I bought the rare Masters of Cinema DVD of 'Abhijan', in hope to change that.

  'Abhijan' is a little known film from Ray's large filmography, that surprisingly few people have seen. It's his biggest film in Bengal, but apart from that it's rarely spoken about. My overall opinion was that the film drags a bit in the middle, but is fully enjoyable and contains many great performances.

  The plot of the film is constantly changing, so therefore, it's hard to figure out where the film is heading, with it starting as a 'fish out of water' protagonist entering a miserable town (the type of film where he makes friends with everyone by the finale), and then changes into a protagonist takes an evil job and looses his friends. The hopeful atmosphere of the film turns into a tragedy, where it feels as if the main character is doomed by his immoral actions. The protagonist switches from bad to good to bad and finally to good again, so by the end of the film I wasn't entirely sure if I liked him or not. The film adds a couple of sub-plots, (the Christian girl, the fight etc) to help fill up the long 2 1/2 hour runtime, but they do get tiresome for a while. 150 minutes is a long time, and I felt like there was not enough interesting events to sustain the brilliance created at the beginning of the film.

  If I was to say "Indian cinema" you would think the colourful singing and dancing exoticism of Bollywood. 'Abhijan' and Ray's other films are far from Bollywood, although they are immersed in Indian culture. Nowhere in the world could make a film combining exotic barren landscape, clanging sitar music and the unfamiliar yet alluring mise-en-scene. I prefer this film to a Bollywood hit like 'Mother India', as it doesn't have the unnecessary singing and dancing, as well as not feeling false and unreal. 'Abhijan' could have genuinely happened in Bengal at some point in time. The film features realistic people in realistic situations, something not seen in the dreamy land of Bollywood, and its a shame they still don't make their films like this.

A superb Indian film from directorial maestro Satyajit Ray. It's never considered one of his greatest, but I fully enjoyed it regardless.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

  'La Grande Bouffe' is a 1973 French film directed by Marco Ferreri, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli and Phillipe Noiret.

  Four gentlemen decide to take a holiday in a remote country house, and eat themselves to death. Two prostitutes and a school teacher decide to keep them company.

  I finally got round to watching the infamous 'La Grande Bouffe', widely known as one of the craziest films ever made. It's a film that is more likely to appear on WTF film lists, then top 100 film lists. Marco Ferreri has made a career of directing some strange films, my favourite being 'Bye Bye Monkey' where "A man walking on the beach near New York City finds the corpse of King Kong. He also finds Kong's orphaned son, and decides to raise it". Ferreri hasn't made any famous, or even critically acclaimed films, but damn are they crazy.

  A film where four men eat food until they die sounds pretty depressing, but the film is alot more fun then it sounds. The characters are filled with expression, similar to other Italian comedies, but here they are go completely over-the-top and then some. Ferrari lets the actors go off the hook, with some of the craziest performances I have seen. The four men are four of the best Italian actors who have ever lived, starring in films from 'Cinema Paradiso' to 'Belle de Jour'. Most notable is Marcello Mastroianni, who I think is the greatest Italian actor who has ever lived, with an unparalleled screen presence.

  The film is also severely grotesque, due to the large amounts of food consumed. Who ever said you shouldn't play with your food? The large plates filled with extravagant dishes of chickens, crepes, and juicy pig heads, are being gratuitously stuffed into by the four men. No table manners whatsoever, they just grab into the food with their hands. The film is grotesque in a sexual way, with the sexual pleasures of the men being performed in a disgusting way, with ugly bodies and even involving some of the food. This does include the occasional sex ontop of a cake. What makes the film genius is that all of this is purely intentional on Ferreri's part. It made me have so many different reactions, from laughing to almost vomiting, which makes the film both memorable and entertaining. Although I can't say I want to ever watch it again.

Italian humour pushed to it's most extreme. It's immature, disgusting and hunger inducing, but I strangely liked it.