Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

The Tagline – It intrigues them! It hooks them! It draws them in!

Marketing of a film is an important aspect of the film industry. One foolish mistake in the pitch to the public can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue. For this reason, certain marketing strategies which were once casually thrown together are now executed with military precision. Such is the case of the creation of a film’s taglines or catchphrases. These are sentences which are used in publicity to entice the passerby to come into the theater. Traditionally they were seen on diagonal bands pasted across a film’s poster, in plastic letters on the theater’s marquee or spoken (always by a male voice) in voiceover during a theater preview or trailer. They are snappy one liners that tease the public rather than inform. Perhaps the most famous one is “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” from the 1986 film, The Fly . They are not loglines – those are one or two sentence descriptions of the story that succinctly give the essence of the plot, setting or conflict. Loglines are important during the pitch of a script or during the sale of a film to distributors, whereas the tagline comes to the fore during the actual theater run.

Writers and producers fret over loglines because they are so important in getting the support they need to make their films successful. Taglines, on the other hand, are the concern of the advertising and marketing staff. But both loglines and taglines have gone through a gradual transformation during the history of cinema, as writers have become more adept at finding the formulas that work. The New York Public Library currently has an exhibit at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center called the Birth of Promotion, Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent Film Era. There are displays of movie posters, newspaper articles, lobby cards and publicity tie-ins of various types, with taglines in prominent display. In a handout made to look like an industry broadsheet there are some examples of taglines from the days of the silents. Looking at them you can get an idea of how much the craft has changed since those hit-or-miss early days of publicity. Some examples:

He suffered the tortures of love, and in his anguish he tortured love itself.

Rioting Color, Fiery Romance, Swift-moving Plot of Primitive Love and Hate.

A love tornado with a flaming sweep to thrill the most blasé.

Spicy and speedy comedy, with a dash of paprika.

Fire in his heart, Love in his eyes, Magnetism on his lips.

Entertainment as refreshing as an oasis in the Sahara.

Why is he loved? THE GIRLS KNOW. THE MEN KNOW.

What struck me about these taglines is how unfocused and overwrought many of them are. Speaking of love and hate, or entertainment and the Sahara in the same sentences, describing magnetism on a man’s lips or his anguished torturing of love seem designed to confuse the public more than anything else. In their zealous attempt to encompass the whole film, these catchphrases end up being a jumble of adjectives and images at cross-purposes. Compare these with some taglines from more recent films:

“Every journey begins with a single move.” Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

“Lie. Cheat. Steal. All In A Day’s Work.” Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

“More sex! More screams! Less taste!” Scary Movie 2 (2001)

“Good cops. Bad hair.” Starsky & Hutch (2004) 

“On this highway, the roadkill is human.” Monster Man (2003

“The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)  
The modern taglines are terse, usually focusing on one precise image. They often use puns and juxtaposed two images to get an effect, rather the hodgepodges of the twenties. I found these modern catchphrases (taglines) on filmsite.org, go there to find listings of taglines from each decade of film production. Loglines, on the other hand, can be found on the imdb site, on the webpage for each individual film, just under the title of the film and before the name of the director, writers and stars.
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March 16, 2012 Posted by | cinema | , | Leave a comment

The Last Jew from Drohobytsch, a film by Paul Rosdy, opens in Vienna

Click on the image for the website link.

A fascinating new film by director Paul Rosdy opened Friday, March 9 in Vienna. Der Letzte Jude von Drohobytsch (The Last Jew from Drohobytsch) is the true story of  Alfred Schreyer, a man who has lived through an entire century of often cataclysmic changes in this small Ukrainian city. Before the arrival of the Nazi troops he had been the student of the Polish painter and writer Bruno Schulz, but then when war and occupation came to this land he was sent to a concentration camp. After the war he returned to his hometown and for sixteen years he was a singer and violinist in an orchestra that played in a cinema lobby.  Alfred Schreyer still lives in Drohobytsch and in this film he leads the filmmaker on a tour of his city and his life.

click here for the film’s photo gallery on flickr.

Paul Rosdy is an Austrian documentary filmmaker who is interested in the little known stories of MittelEuropean culture. In the cauldron of political turmoil that has characterized Central European societies during the past century, there are many stories which sometimes seem on the verge of disappearing into oblivion either through callous ignorance or willful malice. In Central Europe, whoever controls memory controls history; Paul Rosdy would like to be one of the filmmakers who can keep the memory alive for the most vulnerable, and bring their stories to life.  His first success was with the 1998 documentary, The Port of Last Resort, which he co-authored. It presents the story of 20,000 European Jews who fled to Shanghai during World War II.  Then in 2005 he wrote and directed New World, which is a journey through the old Austro-Hungarian lands of Serbia, Romania and Hungary. That film used a collage format that weaved century old photography and footage with present day scenes of these traditional lands and people.

The film Der Letzte Jude von Drohobytsch was part of the Viennale, 2011. It now begins its theater run in Austria. Hopefully it will also be seen in New York soon, too.

Click for Rosdy Film website. 

March 11, 2012 Posted by | cinema | , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Golden Age: Cristian Mungiu hits his stride

The film Tales of the Golden Age (Amintiri din Epoca de Aur) is a black comedy about the absurdities of life in the late Ceausescu era of the 1980s.

click for an article at Libertas Film Magazine

The film is a perfectly tuned cavalcade of characters who fill the screen with their dread, charm, zeal and depression, but never despair. It is also deeply satisfying to see the filmmaker Cristian Mungiu outdoing himself while revisiting that period, the setting of his highly successful 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. That might seem like a difficult task, considering the oddly lavish praise that he received for that previous effort, which landed him the Palme D’Or at Cannes, as well as the European Film Award and making him the undeniable Flavor of the Month for quite a few months running. But that movie, “4 – 3 – 2” which focused on the wrenching troubles of a college girl as she procures an illegal abortion in the dark days of communism benefitted perhaps too much from favorable timing, a desire to reward new Eastern talent and a feeling that Romania’s time had come, and all the inscrutable politics that go into film jury awards. It was indeed darkly moving and effective, but to my mind it suffered from the usual Balkan indie syndrome: plodding direction, hermetic dialog and worst of all, Tarkovskian pretentiousness that often brings the concept of the long take to absurd extremes, to the point of stopping the action altogether.

“Tales” is quite different, and probably because Mungiu has carved out a different role for himself, as writer and executive director, that obviously fits him much better. He has brought together a group of new (but not young) directors to present a medley of short pieces. These are all stories that had circulated among the population in that period, “urban legends” that like the epics and minstrel tales of earlier times, embody the spirit of a people. Each one tells of ordinary people who squirm and operate in resistance to the capriciousness and Kafkaesque inscrutability of governmental authority. They are all eventually done in by the overwhelming force of the official machine, but things are not all that bleak: the stories have more than a bit of the comedy all’italiana to them, and there is an indomitable spirit and a joie de vivre that energizes the film. These directors, all in their thirties or early forties, have had the time and life experience to emerge from that Balkan gloom to look at their past with an understanding and sympathy that only they could provide. They have created a film about petty greed, corruption and silly revolutionary zeal that speaks about the human condition in a way that everyone can relate to. I especially liked the first tale, about a village that is trying its best to prepare for a state visit drive-by. The communist party petty officials who come to give them the list of hoops they must jump through are buffoonish but charming in their way and we readily go along for the ride as the villagers are swept into the excitement of it. Unfortunately for them and the petty officials, they all end up riding endlessly strapped into a carnival ride all night long. The story is topped off perfectly, as local shepherds watch cynically, misunderstanding their cries for help as shouts of decadent joy.

Cristian Mungiu and Iona Maria Uricaru are credited with the screenplay, and it is outstanding: crisp and funny and so revealing of the way people thought in those almost forgotten days. I lived in Romania for three years in the 1990s and although I never knew the communist apparatchiks, I recognized the people in this film and their every action and reaction immediately. Of course, one could quibble about the props, the outlandishly expensive carnival ride and the high quality of some of the clothing, for instance would have been out of place even in the small town Romania of 1992, much less that of the Ceausescu era, but any more accuracy would probably be more of a distraction than anything else.  I doubt that today’s audiences would even believe the post-industrial squalor of that period, and would take it as propaganda. The directors, besides Mungiu and Uricaru, are Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu and Constantin Popescu. And although direction for the individual tales is not listed in any of the press material or on screen,  …. in the Village Voice states that festival rumor mills credited Mungiu for the last two tales (which were released as a separate feature film in Romania). This sounds reasonable. The penultimate tale, about young people scamming apartment dwellers in order to collect their empty bottles for the deposits, is set in the type of milieu that recalls 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. There are some fine moments here, with the two teens, played by Diana Cavallioti and  Radu Iacoban, collecting apartment air in the bottles (supposedly for chemical analysis) with comic ineptitude. The last tale, about a truck driver who gets himself caught up in the sale of stolen eggs, is a bit less effective. It is slower than the previous tales, and the sudden reappearance of the pregnant pauses makes one suddenly realize how mercifully free of such conceits the previous pieces had been. Here, the silences (and the long takes of the nape of the truck driver’s neck) are used to convey the loneliness and inhibitions that the driver Grigore (Vlad Ivanov) feels, and they are somewhat effective in this. Such devices can work if they are used in extreme moderation, like a light seasoning of black pepper on your stuffed cabbage. Less effective was the dreadful device of open ended ending, which the director uses here to finish his tale and finish the film. It is the trademark cop-out of Balkan arthouse films, and it is particularly unwelcome here, where just one sentence from Grigore or his female accomplice in crime could have said something really poignant, revealing, prescient or encouraging. The director of this segment (Mungiu?) has let the dramatic tension percolate and rise so effectively, leading us up to a great platform on which to say something… and instead we are left with nothing… the frame goes black…. supposedly so that we can fill it in for ourselves.

Cristian Mungiu is interviewed at Cannes about how this film differs from his “arthouse” style.  Unfortunately, he still hasn’t  quite given up that art house elitism. On  youtube:

In spite of the backsliding in the last segment, Mungiu’s ability to put all the pieces together in this seemlessly stitched together tapestry bodes well for future productions. I hope he continues on this path and continues to help create an artistic representation of that surrealistic world of the late Twentieth Century.

Click here for Tales from the Golden Age on the Sundance website, with clips.

Some related posts about Romania on my blogs:

Page for my novel, The Shriek and the Rattle of Trains, set in Romania in 1993.

Some of my Romanian photos on my art blog.

The Paper will be blue, film by Radu Muntean

My Reviews about other Balkan films:

Former-Yugoslav filmmakers explore the dark

I am from Titov Veles

Beyond the Kosovo rainbow

Bulgaria’s mosquito problem

Sarajevo’s Historical Museum

No one’s Croatian Son

A Man without a Mustache

Bosnian War as absurdist theater

September 1, 2011 Posted by | cinema | , , | Leave a comment

Music and Naples and John Turturro.

I

The film Passione, directed by John Turturro, is a dramatized documentary about Neapolitan music. It blends spoken word, songs and playful vignettes all set in the streets and boudoirs of Naples in an attempt to reintroduce American and international audiences to a music that they used to know or believed that they knew, and then forgot. The film takes an unusual approach: instead of focusing on the legacy of the music and the far reaching influence that it has had over the years, Turturro and his artistic collaborators in Naples present the state of the music and the city today. It is a jarring collection of images and sounds, the faces and voices of local people who are extraordinary in their oddities. Interspliced with the music are interludes of people from the most humble backgrounds doing strange

Pietra Montecorvino. Click here for more info

street theater type things. It is a film that had to be made by an Italian American rather than an Italian because it is unafraid turn an unflinching camera on the injured souls of Naples, with their uninhibited extroversion, something that is inextricably part of the music, but which is intensely embarrassing to most Italians. And being a part of the independent film community, which thrives on this type of stuff, Turturro perhaps errs on the side of enthusiasm: the film celebrates the deformities and gap-tooth decadence of Naples almost to the exclusion of any images of the more civilized aspects of Neapolitan culture, which also have had much to do with the development of this music. Baroque facades are only shown splashed with graffitti and teeming marketplaces with heaping garbage are more important than all the concert halls and theaters of the city. There is much text about the sexual passion of histrionic lovers, and several songs that correspond to this, but little room for the musical expressions of true love. However, the music is excellent, it is a pot-pourri of songs that run the gamut from old standards to jazz improvisation, to modern popular songs. The best of them showcase the evolving sounds of a newly cosmopolitan Naples that has recently regained the stature of a Mediterranean melting pot that it lost for a couple of centuries. Even such traditional songs as O Sole Mio are presented in various unusual ways, in this case as a medley beginning with old footage of Sergio Bruni singing it in its standard form, then on to a young Massimo Ranieri singing

M'Barka Ben Taleb. Click here for more info

it with a large pop orchestra in the 1960s and then the Tunisian-Neapolitan singer M’Barka Ben-Taleb interpreting it today in a bilingual Arabic-Italian rendition. The singers are also a surprise: they are mostly accomplished musicians but they are not among the most famous – there is no Gigi D’Alessio, no Lucio Dalla, or Anna Oxa (though there is a very talented Loredana Bertè sound-alike in Pietra Montecorvina). The only well known singers are the Portuguese singer Misia, whose soulful fado style gives a beautiful resonance to the melodies, and Massimo Ranieri, the veteran singer who has been dedicating himself in recent years to a reinterpretation of Neapolitan music in a new context.

As I said, this film had to be made by an Italian American and not an Italian. And it had to be a modern, independent minded Italian American who has come to revisit his heritage after a long journey everywhere else. Neapolitan music does not have many champions in the larger community of Italians either inside Italy or out. It wasn’t always that way: The music has been developing for centuries and has had a lot of success in the past. It influenced classical music through opera and other musical styles that were developing during the 17th and 18th centuries when Naples was a rich musical center. In the nineteenth century the Neapolitan song became the prototype of modern pop music. Sheet music for the latest popular songs were sold on the streets and in shops in the city, creating a dynamic of hit songs, singing stars and standard repertoires. In the early twentieth century this pop style spread internationally through the many songs that gained worldwide currency because of this early pop music infrastructure and because of the wealth of talented and highly trained composers, singers and performers that recorded and traveled throughout Europe and the Americas. And the tradition has never faltered. Neapolitan music has been developing and enriching its repertoire of music, its pantheon of composers and artists throughout the past century, and is as alive and vibrant today as ever in the past.

The CD at Amazon

Yet, in New York City during the last few decades, where one could find stacks and stacks of world music recordings in the great music emporiums like Tower Records or J & R Music World, it was always nearly impossible to find anything from Naples, other than tacky “souvenirs of Santa Lucia” type compilations by pop orchestras – this, in a metropolitan area with over a million people of Southern Italian descent. Now that music buying has moved on-line, the situation is much the same at the big american websites. Just see what you get if you search “Neapolitan” on any of the music store websites. Why is this? Why don’t Americans and Italian Americans in particular have any taste for Neapolitan music? One could point to the Anglo-conformist pressures which were particularly ferocious in the case of Southern and Eastern Europeans in the xenophobic hysteria of the first half of the Twentieth Century. But to put the blame there would be a cop-out. The fact is, it is nearly impossible to find Neapolitan music anywhere outside of Naples nowadays, in cities like Paris or Berlin, where there are large Italian communities. Even in Milan or Florence, in Italy itself, one has to search hard for more than just a smattering of the most famous singers. So obviously, the problem goes much deeper.

The DVD at Barnes & Noble

In reality, Naples itself is an embarrassment to Italians. Many people see it almost as a festering wound that drains the economy and the civil society of the country as a whole with its corruption, inefficiency and Camorra organized crime. It has come to symbolize something retrogressive, decadent, dirty and perhaps worst of all, a place with trashy bad taste – in a country that wants to see itself as modern, sophisticated and progressive. And it gets worse: the people who listen to ethnic and world music both inside Italy and out, are generally multiculturalists, on the left and progressive politically. For them, it is difficult to relate to Neapolitans politically, as the Parthenopean city has a reputation for revanchist attitudes and conservative reflexes. There are constant tales of intolerance and xenophobic violence coming out of Naples and the surrounding region even today and they feed a prejudice that already existed about the city. Whereas it is very PC and trendy to listen to Bulgarian monks and Andean pan-flutes, the music of Naples has a decidedly reactionary stink to it.

Then on top of this, the problem is compounded by the negative effects of the success of the past: Neapolitan music has come to mean smaltzy tunes warbled by someone’s tipsy old Uncle Mario at family gatherings, some treacly cliches of nostalgia.  Funiculi, Funicula! The combined weight of all these negative attitudes has made the music almost a pariah in the modern world.

Even the Neapolitans have a love/hate relationship with their tragic and beautiful, culturally rich and tacky city. The film ends with the song Napul’e by Pino Daniele. This iconic song from the 1970s has become a modern anthem for many Neapolitans. It is sung at San Paolo Stadium the way Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York is sung at Yankee Stadium. Here are the lyrics, with their melancholy and ambiguity, in Neapolitan dialect and in English:

Napule E’ :

Napule è mille culure

Napule è mille paure

Napule è a voce de’ criature che

saglie chianu chianu

e tu sai ca’ nun si sulo

Napule è nu sole amaro

Napule è addore e’ mare

Napule è na’ carta sporca e nisciuno

se ne importa e

ognuno aspetta a’ sciorta

Napule è na’ camminata

int’ e viche miezo all’ate

Napule è tutto nu suonno e a’ sape tutto o’ munno ma

nun sanno a’ verità.

Napule è mille culure..

 Naples Is

Naples is a thousand colors

Naples is a thousand fears

Naples is the voice of a child

that slowly slowly rises up

and then you know you’re not alone.

Naples is a bitter sun

Naples is the smell of the sea,

Naples is a dirty scrap of paper

and no one could care less,

they’re just waiting for the turn of luck.

Naples is a stroll through the crowded narrow alleys.

Naples is a dream that everyone knows so well,

but they don’t know the truth.

Naples is a thousand colors.

A film like Passione, helps to show a more nuanced and culturally evolving Naples than we are used to seeing. This beautiful tribute to Neapolitan music can go a long way toward changing hardened attitudes. But a vicious cycle must be broken first. There is no proven market for such a film and so it is a hard sell to get it into local art houses, and there is no young audience for Neapolitan music, so the new artists remain unknown. Hopefully, the situation can be changed one small step at a time. In the meantime, there is always the internet for those who, like John Turturro can move outside the box, pass through all the Bulgarian monks and Andean pan-flutists and reconnect with this culture in a new, 21st century way.

Other Links:

About the Soundtrack

A great interview with John Turturro at Sundance

Other posts about Naples on my blogs:

The photography of Norma Rossetti

The photography of Federico Garolla

The Last Pulcinella

Pappi Corsicato: Il seme della discordia

Scampia and South Bronx: Gomorra

August 25, 2011 Posted by | cinema, music | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bollywood Ghetto: Can the largest cinema industry ever make it to the Western downtown market?

By far the largest film production in the world, with technical know how, marketing capabilities and exposure to rival Hollywood, the Bollywood film industry seems ever poised to make that final leap of quality and become big time box office in the lucrative and prestigious film markets of North America and Western Europe. Yet, somehow, it never happens. There are probably many complex obstacles, in terms of business and economics, but those can certainly be overcome. The most intractable problem may be cultural.

Click here for Brady brochure pdf

It is easy to lament that there is latent cultural prejudice concerning film from India, that people in Western countries are not ready to accept Bollywood as serious filmmaking. While this may be true to a certain extent, I believe that it is only a small part of the cultural problem. To counterbalance any prejudice is the long held fascination that the West has with Bollywood filmmaking. For many years, people have been intrigued by the occasional images that we get of the wildly elaborate musical production numbers, of the vibrant colors and the impeccably beautiful film stars. Certainly, this fascination could translate into market share, no matter how much initial reluctance may exist.

Another common belief is that Western audiences will never accept the singing and dancing and lavish set designs of Bollywood tradition. Indeed there are people who turn up their noses at the idea of serious actors suddenly jumping up and belting out delirious dance tunes as a tidal wave of dancers invade the scene on the run. It is a bit jarring, for sure, but it is part of the essential charm of Bollywood and it would be a terrible shame for filmmakers to put restraints on this simply to chase a particular demographic. There is a large enough share of Western audiences who love Broadway and West End type musicals who could easily buy into this type of film.

The problem, to me seems to be in the culture of the scripts. Certain script conventions are more or less acceptable to the present day Bollywood audience, but are a major turn-off for North American and Western European viewers. If Bollywood wants to truly break into this market, it will have to tailor its stories more closely to the expectations of Westerners. This could be done by creating two versions of films: those for the traditional Bollywood markets and new, streamlined and reconsidered versions for Western audiences. If done as a matter of course, it could work very effectively. And it may even help to improve the home audience versions.

Bollywood traffics in fantasy. Everything is exaggerated in the world of these films. Fortunately, Western audiences will have a high threshold for fantasy when viewing these films, as they understands that this is a fantasy world, and an exotic one that they view as outsiders. However, when the fantasy becomes totally unbelievable and ridiculous, it can overwhelm that threshold and ruin the Westerner’s enjoyment of the film. The most important thing that Bollywood filmmakers could do to make their films palatable to Western audiences is to edit out the most egregious affronts to common sense in the stories. As simple as that. The films are already overly long for Western theaters – no movie house wants to show films that are two and a half hours long to audiences that only half fill the hall. If studios could cut out an hour of the most off-putting silliness, they would often have a product that would be eminently presentable in the most demanding markets.

By silliness, I don’t mean all flights of fantasy – that, again, is the charm of Bollywood. I mean the attitudes that are anathema and the breakdowns in logic that are simply lazy scriptwriting. In the following films I can give a few examples of what I mean.

Dostana

Dostana (2008) Directed by Tarun Mansukhani. International title: Friendship.
With its flashy setting, incredibly good looking and talented stars this film has already enjoyed immense success in the Bollywood market. It would be potentially a big hit in Western markets, if it could work out some simple problems.

The story is a simple one: Sam (played by superstar Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (played by sex symbol John Abraham) manage to share an apartment with the beautiful Neha (Priyanka Chopra) by convincing her that they are gay. The attitude toward homosexuality of the characters is somewhat problematic. However, I don’t think that this will be a major obstacle. For Western audiences, the characters’ inherent fear of homosexuality can be unpleasant to the social conscience, but made acceptable by the actors who are so entertaining to watch. This is true about Abhishek Bachchan when he minces around playing up to clichés about gay men that are tired and passé. He does it with such infectious good humor that it works. Furthermore, his flirtation with homosexual feelings elsewhere in the script brings him the sympathy of the viewers and makes it palatable. Gay audiences will forgive him these excesses, considering the eye candy that he and John Abraham provide from beginning to end. Sam’s

Its all about the boys in Dostana

mother (Kiron Kher) is another example, and her homophobia becomes something to laugh about as she works it for all its worth. 142 minutes? Cut out the most egregious manipulations of Sam and Kunal as they try to sabotage Neha’s affair with Abhi (Bobby Deol), specifically, the scenes in which they cruelly mislead Abhi’s son to believe that he is about to be shipped off to boarding school. This type of mental abuse of a small child would be shocking to Western audiences far more than anything else in the film.

After the great success of this film, a sequel is being developed but has reportedly run into script delays. Let’s hope that producer Karan Johar has some storyline improvements in mind, as the film takes on ever more cultural significance. And since it is being set partly in London, the home of Sam’s mother, we can hope for more scenes with his mother.

Dulha Mil Gaya (2010) Directed by Mudassar Aziz. International title: I Found a Groom.

This film was the director’s debut and it suffered from all kinds of delays and took 3 years to complete. That type of thing doesn’t bode well, and in fact, the film has not been a bit success despite the inclusion of the top of the A-list actors, Shah Rukh Khan. It would need a lot of work to be successful outside of the traditional market. And those changes would help it do a lot better in the Bollywood market as well.
Besides the acting, which has come under some criticism, the script is full of Bollywood clichés and shopworn conventions. Bollywood audiences may be getting tired of these things, and Western audiences would simply not accept them.

Shah Rukh Khan

Breakdown in logic: There are numerous occasions where the improbable becomes insulting to the common sense of the viewer. The way Donsai marries Samarpreet in a matter of a couple of days, and later the way that she simply lands on top of Shimmer’s limousine. The most ridiculous turn of events has got to be when Shimmer’s key chain charm flies overboard from the cruise ship. Shah Rukh Khan jumps overboard and retrieves it effortlessly from the ocean. Besides being physically impossible it is so improbable that he could find a tiny trinket in the Atlantic Ocean that it is laughable and brings the viewer completely out of the fantasy. It is also totally unnecessary. Some intelligent editing could rid the film of this scene and the few minor repercussions it causes later in the film.
Problematic attitudes: The main characters Donsai (Fardeen Khan) and Shimmer (Shishmita Sen) are a problem. Their wastefulness is difficult to take. In fact, all of the extravagant affluence would be considered in extreme bad taste by Westerners and people everywhere with a social conscience. It would be impossible to eradicate this from the story. Therefore, there should be extreme caution to make sure that the characters are sympathetic in other ways to neutralize the effects of this on the viewer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. The snobbishness of the Shimmer is unpleasant and works against her acceptance by Western audiences. Her attitude toward Samarpreet (played by Ishita Sharma) on the airplane would not be considered acceptable. This scene would have to be rewritten in a way which makes her less insulting to the modest girl. In fact, she should be less offensive to everyone. It seems that her favorite response to anyone she even mildly disagrees with is, “Shut up!” Donsai is also monumentally insensitive at times, and repellent in his immoral exploitation of the simple country girl. He does develop in the story but not nearly enough to make him acceptable. The effect of his development would be enhanced by some judicious editing. Besides that, some of the lavish party scenes and conspicuous consumption of all the characters should be snipped and tucked. Moreover, the clichéd gay character, as well as the scorn and disrespect that he receives from all around him, is truly offensive. Cut the film from 152 minutes down to 120, please! But even after all that, it would probably not be enough. This type of film might just as well remain in the ghetto where it has potential for the most modest success.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). Directed by Aditya Chopra.

An excellent showcase performance by Bollywood’s greatest star, Shah Rukh Khan, for which he won the Apsara Best Actor Award (a Bollywood oscar). He plays Surinder, a Chaplinesque character by day who works at a call center, and Saturday Night Fever clown by night who woos his own wife in disguise. The chemistry between Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, who plays his wife, Taani, as well as the fine interaction of Surinder and his best friend, Bobby (Vinay Pathak) are special indeed. It is a fine script, as it presents an artless man who wants desperately to express himself to his wife, and in so doing, unwittingly sets a trap for them both. To be sure, the script is ridiculous in parts, but that is a Bollywood conceit that is a given. The story does have some worthy dialog about love and some interesting touches. There is a leitmotif about God and religion that is refreshingly different. God is mentioned often, as the force behind love, but this is a God tailored to human needs, not the other way around. The main characters Surinder and Taani have a nicely pan-religious devotion, and during the course of the film are seen praying in Sikh and Hindu temples, a mosque, a Christian church and a Shinto shrine – that’s quite an achievement in itself. For me, the problem seems mostly about length. 168 minutes! Almost three hours long! Please, cut out the motorcycle chase scenes in which Surinder’s wife Taani takes her revenge on a rival. This petty meanness is completely out of character for Taani and it does nothing to lead the story forward. Regretfully, it would not be enough, so maybe the Sumo wrestling scene should go, too. SRK’s performance foreshadows his tour de force  as a Forrest Gump type character in Karan Johar’s 2010 big film,  My Name is Khan.

These films can be seen at Cinema Brady on Boulevard de Strasbourg in Paris duing the Bollywood summer festival. To learn about the ten Bollywood films which will be shown repeatedly until September 14th, as part of Brady’s “Eté Bollywood,” look at Brady’s website, or the related website, Fantastikindia.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | cinema | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Loose Cannons, (Mine Vaganti) and Ferzan Ozpetek in full bloom

The Italian film Mine Vaganti, (Le Premier Qui l’A Dit in French, Loose Cannons in English) has made its second entrance to Paris last night. This was billed as a “preview,” une avant-première, but in reality, even though the official Paris theater run begins July 21, the film has already been shown to sold out audiences at Les Halles in May, 2010. This time it snuck in as part of the mysteriously low-profile Paris Film Festival, and a half a theater full of informed people found their way in the July heat to the Gaumont Parnasse cinema, where they showed their appreciation by actually applauding at the end (never a given in Paris, even at festivals).

I had heard a lot of good things about this film, and was aware of its success in Italy, and I was not disappointed by what I saw. Ferzan Ozpetek has always been an idiosyncratic filmmaker, with stories that meander through an emotional terrain of unspoken desires and limitations, played out in settings of sumptuous beauty. An Ozpetek trademark is the proliferation of characters in his stories who reveal their inner selves in unexpected ways throughout the story, resulting in a teeming tableau of personalities that pull the story apart with their flourish. The key to success for Ozpetek is weaving these unruly characters together into a story that leads them somewhere better than where they began. He was almost there in his 2007 film, Saturno Contro, (Saturn in Opposition), but not quite. His 2008 film, A Perfect Day, adapted from Melania Mazzucco’s novel, was also not completely successful in this regard, if I can judge from the reviews and critical comments (I haven’t seen it). However, here in Mine Vaganti, Ozpetek seems to have hit his stride and found a way to let his characters unfold in ways that don’t crowd out the plot. Thus, the necessarily open ended final scenes are satisfying in ways that Saturno contro’s was not, because the resolution is to be found in the new equilibrium that this blossoming and growth have created. This is symbolized beautifully in the final garden scene where characters from different story threads and epochs dance together in perfect harmony and peace.

Ever since his directorial debut with Hamam (Steam) in 1997, the Turkish born Ferzan Ozpetek has earned a devoted following among audiences in Italy and elsewhere. His treatment of gay themes means an inevitable comparison with Almodovar. In fact, Ozpetek has an ironic style and a feeling for stories that reflect a very Mediterranean sensibility, in ways that parallel Almodovar, but whereas the Spanish director is steeped in the cultural iconography of Spain and Latin America, Ozpetek is part of an Eastern Mediterranean tradition that still feels the weight of millennial customs more than the anarchy of intercontinental modernity. This leads him to explore areas of classical beauty and wisdom, but also to confront the tragic limitations and inbred fears that still persist there. For this reason, Mine Vaganti, which is set squarely in Italy’s south, the Mezzogiorno, may seem anachronistic and unreal to many viewers in other lands. Tommaso’s father’s exaggerated response to his son’s coming out, the inarticulate longings of the young woman, Alba and the manipulative sensuality of just about everyone may be a bit hard to swallow for some people with a low tolerance for the self-indulgences of this ancient part of the modern world. Indeed, the film is set in an alternate reality that speaks the language of traditional Commedia all’Italiana (Sophia Loren or Alberto Sordi would be perfectly at home here) but to my mind, it does so very effectively, in the service of characters that touch us, despite their obvious theatricality.

As usual, Ozpetek has attracted some of Italy’s best actors to create an ensemble of unforgettable characters. Heading the cast are Riccardo Scamarcio in the role of Tommaso, the conflicted gay son, with kissing scenes that are courageous for an Italian actor with heartthrob status. Nicole Grimaudo plays the beautiful young woman, Alba, who is nursing a broken heart, Alessandro Prezioso is Tommaso’s older brother Antonio and Ennio Fantastichini his overwhelmed father.  Click on the poster, above, to go to the film’s official website, where you will hear the film’s delightfully retro theme song, sung by Nina Zilli. The soundtrack, unfortunately, is not listed on the website. That’s a shame, as it includes some great music, italianissima, but including one great Turkish song by Sezen Aksu at the very end.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | cinema | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment