Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

"Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959), Alain Resnais' debut feature length project is a baffling film, one that is extremely difficult to even summarize in a synopsis!

We are (almost) introduced to two characters in a passionate clinch, their faces not shown, conversing with one another, although it is mostly a one-sided conversation. The woman keeps saying things about knowing, and seeing Hiroshima closely, while the man keeps interjecting and contradicting her. She insists that she has seen and remembers a lot about Hiroshima but he contradicts her again saying that she is "not endowed with memory"! The conversation happens against a strange background score, and shocking visuals, some of which is part of actual documentary footage of the irreparable damage done to human life and property during the tragic Hiroshima bombings of 1945. The woman continues to talk; although at this point of time we aren’t sure exactly which year it is set in, whether during the war or much after it!

The camera glides across corridors of hospitals, bombing sites, showcasing bodies of dead and deformed children, further moving into the homes of survivors who are rendered only half humans, losing hair rapidly, yet trying their best to survive despite being crippled and deformed for life! The visuals of the grisly aftermath keep getting displayed, as almost impassive voiceovers continue to narrate away for the first few minutes.

Soon we cut away from the nightmare-like tone of the initial few minutes and are shown the faces of the conversing couple. A French woman and a Japanese man have just spent the night together. The woman, an actress who hails from Nevers, France, is in Hiroshima to shoot for some scenes in a film she is starring in, while the Japanese man is an architect.

Believe it or not, the rest of the film is like one lengthy conversation with repeated ramblings, sometimes deadpan, sometimes over-emotional, between these two individuals who, after making love one night,  find that they are madly in love with each other! Some of the conversation seems random and meaningless, some quite forlorn, while most of it sheds light on the dark past of the woman, particularly revolving around her failed romance.

It is from this vague conversation that one can try and draw some inference as to the central idea of the film. Only on a broad level, it is safe to say, that juxtaposed against the tragedy at Hiroshima, a prominent theme in the film is that of undying love; the loss of loved one(s), and most importantly the memory of such love (or tragedy) that continues to haunt an individual.

In one bizarre scene, the lengthiest, perhaps, shot in a bar, the woman, who appears to be a rather fragile, emotionally wounded individual, has a few hours left with the man, before she returns to France. She reminisces in a drunken state, about her first love affair with a German soldier, who got killed. Only we aren’t really sure if it’s a dream she is narrating or a past, for she seems to be talking in present tense. There are a lot of flashback scenes interspersed, disturbing ones at that, describing how she was punished by confinement to a cellar and having her head shaved off! The woman gets hysterical, cries out loud, gets slapped by the man, then calms down again, constantly narrating the events, referring to the Japanese man as part of the story, although it is actually about the German soldier! During the time he keeps pouring drinks for her and listening to her story, the Japanese man keeps reiterating how much he is in love with her and would like to be with her!

It’s all befuddling but you do find yourself giving in to the strange but strikingly original narrative. There’s this soul-stirring background music score, top-notch cinematography, a partially great atmosphere, moody story-telling style, and the use of quick flash backs (a strong influence of the French New Wave). The acting is superlative all the way, by the two leads, most especially Emmanuelle Riva for her spellbinding performance, considering the camera mostly captures every expression on her face for a long time. And finally, there’s a sheer uniqueness about "Hiroshima Mon Amour" that makes it a film that deserves great admiration.

Only this this film is no "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961), that stupendous surrealist dreamscape of a film that Resnais followed this up with, and made use of some of the devices used in "Hiroshima Mon Amour" to a significantly greater effect.

Despite a well-written screenplay by Marguerite Duras, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, nevertheless, oscillates between extremely surreal on one hand to extremely documentary-like real on the other, which lets it down slightly. It would've perhaps benefited more, had there been some consistency in its mood. Moreover, it certainly seems a tad long and repetitive even for its modest 90 min length and could've actually been much more accessible if cut short by at least 15 minutes.

Remarkable though; an essential film outing.

Score: 8/10

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oslo, August 31st (2011)

We begin with what appear to be snippets of scenes from some distant memories. Photographs and home video clips are flashed in a montage. There are voice-overs reminiscing some happy times, perhaps from someone’s childhood and growing up over the years.

But suddenly we cut to the central character, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), as he wakes up in bed and sits in stunned silence, looking sullen, very clearly getting that feeling of waking up to reality. Was that a dream? Had he just drifted away, overcome by nostalgia, back to the days of yore, in times which were very obviously happier?

In the next few minutes we learn that Anders is a recovering drug addict in a rehabilitation program. He gets a day’s leave from his rehab home to go on the outside and try his luck with a job interview. Anders has been clean for over 10 months now, and hasn’t touched a drug or alcohol ever since. It is no mean feat, as some say, very few people manage to make it to the other side. The film then follows Anders as he spends this day in Oslo, the city he grew up in, catching up with old friends, fixing a meeting with his sister, and amongst other things, trying his hand at getting a position as an editorial assistant at a local publication.

Not through explicit depictions, but through some conversations between characters, we come to know that Anders has had a very disturbing recent past as an addict. His addiction had taken a huge toll on his love life, family life, social life, almost about everything! Completely blinded by it, he is financially drained out, and now, apparently, his parents are forced to sell their family house.

At the outset Anders seems to be doing pretty well with his rehabilitation, being genuinely abstinent for almost a year. It is not unknown that coming out of the drug habit is a herculean task. But can life go back to complete normalcy after one is out of it? Not in all cases…

Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier's "Oslo, August 31st", using Anders as a medium, tries to focus on this very aspect of recovering. Substance abuse not only destroys a person physically; it also hampers the person psychologically, doing irreparable damage to that one thing that contributes significantly to mending anything under the sun, and getting life back on track; that thing called hope!

The trip to Oslo turns out to be a wake-up call, rather than a pleasure trip. Anders is now 34. He sees that his buddy Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner, in a naturalistic, superb, performance) is now happily married, has two kids, living a normal life. Other friends too, have moved on and settled down. In one of the best scenes, in a lengthy conversation between the two buddies, Anders reveals his true feelings. He feels left behind. He feels he has lost precious years of his life. It is an irreversible reality that Anders has to face. And he is too scared of this fact. He certainly cannot start from scratch. His views are full of pessimism, and no matter how much Thomas tries to make him feel better, and tries convincing that things are not as bad as they seem, Anders seems to think otherwise, and even harbors suicidal thoughts! In an attempt to ease Anders’ worries, Thomas even goes to the extent of bringing out details of his own life, stressing upon the fact that him and his wife have gradually slipped into this humdrum family life, and that it isn’t as happening as Anders might think it is.

One can’t help but feel Anders’ anguish. Anders Danielsen Lie, with his superlative, heartbreaking performance, makes it all the more believable, as we feel at one with Anders and can instantly relate to him. The filming is minimalist, the acting: amazingly natural, the camerawork: life-like, and there is usage of a hand-held camera for the most part making us viewers feel that it’s actually us, following Anders with a camera, as he covers his itinerary in Oslo…it is that real!

The buddies part, with Thomas hoping for the best, and with the promise of meeting Anders in a party, later in the evening,  at another couple’s place, their common friends.

The job interview gives Anders a ray of hope, as it kicks off well, but a question posed by the interviewer, about a time gap seen in the CV, makes Anders mad and it ends in a disaster, just like he predicts (or wants?). Anders’ case is very understandable. He probably belongs to that category of people who like to wallow in pity and have long lost the patience to do anything about it. Or as Thomas even exclaims once, seeing his attitude, "Be a loser. If that’s what you want". Although one would like to think that the defeatist attitude, perhaps, stems from the shattered confidence.

With "Oslo, August 31st", which is only his second feature-length film, Joachim Trier has delivered a masterpiece. Rarely does one come across such a restrained, yet frighteningly real and intimate study of a drug addict coming out of the habit. It’s a deeply human drama; a crushing portrait of a troubled young man, a representative of all youngsters out there who are a little more adventurous than they should be. By the end of the first half, we are just too well acquainted with Anders. So much so, that during all the events that take place in the latter half of the film, we feel genuine concern and really wish things would get back on track for him, despite the obvious lag the addiction has introduced in his life. And therefore, we sincerely wish that he wouldn’t pick up that glass of wine at a party he visits later. We wish he wouldn’t follow some friends who decide to go to a rave party.

We keep wishing, for we still have our hopes intact. Only deep within, we are aware of the devastating truth, that Anders has lost his.

Score: 10/10