2023 had been a great year for my movie watching. I clocked close to watching a 100 movies in the kinos, ranging from silent movies from the 1920s and indulging in the Barbenheimer hype on the first day. I didn't have this kind of access before moving to Berlin, in India watching a movie meant fitting into the latest Bollywood release cycle with a few pop-American movies thrown in. So for the most part of my life, access to world cinema was only through the internet, watching on a small screen with abysmal audio output. Though watching movies on a computer kept my cinema fantasies alive, it restricted my understanding of the intricate elements that make a movie truly immersive. Going to the kinos often showed that a mediocre movie becomes better when viewed in the kino while a great movie transforms itself into an altered state of consciousness that requires careful calibration post-movie to reintegrate into the world. I have been forgiving with most of the movies I watched in the kinos and when a bad one like Ridley Scott's Napoleon hit me I chose to have a nap instead.

Though most of my viewings in 2023 were the latest releases my plan for 2024 is to deviate from this a bit. The indelible movie experiences from last year were the older movies that I watched during the retrospectives in the Berlinale and the East Asian movies shown fortnightly at the Yorck kinos and the various festivals at Babylon Berlin. Movies that I watched previously enjoyed on the small screen or classics I saved for later viewings are the ones that I want to explore on the big screen, as that was the medium they're intended for. Another goal is to be more mindful about watching movies, prioritizing quality over quantity, I'd rather watch a movie I love five times than cramming four mediocre movies in the mix. This would further be supplemented by my informal film studies revolving around cinematography and editing, while also venturing into decoding special effects and understanding what makes a performance shine.

At some point last year I lost interest in film criticism as it reduced my movie watching exercise into constant intellectual masturbation, dissociating from the actual experience of being in the kino. I will try keeping movie criticism to a minimum while allocating these intellectual resources towards film philosophy and the contribution of cinema to our collective unconscious. If I achieve even 10% of my film viewing goals I'd consider it a success. Let's see what 2024 brings and see you at the movies!

#film #writing

The opening scene of Beau is Afraid has been haunting me ever since I watched the movie. It's a scene that lingers, etching itself into my mind. Baby Beau, just born, emerges into a world of obscurity, surrounded by a nebulous red hue. Then, abruptly, he is dropped onto the floor, his mother's screams filling the air. This vivid imagery forces me to contemplate my own journey into existence. Perhaps, in that moment, I too was greeted by a disorienting swirl of colors, with that same nebulous red as my first glimpse of the world. It's a jarring and unsettling scene, one that places the world around me into a disconcerting context. From that point on, everything I perceive has evolved, blossoming from that enigmatic red. This notion echoes the wisdom found in Tibetan beliefs, where a flashing red light accompanies our journey towards death, drawing us inexorably towards it.

The online realm has been abuzz with reactions to Beau long before the film's official release, and opinions have been sharply divided. A viral audio recording even went so far as to predict that this movie would be a career-killer for its director, Ari Aster. Another point of contention was its lengthy runtime, which presented a personal challenge for me as someone who struggles with prolonged periods of sitting.

Yet, the true essence of Beau extends beyond its narrative material; it poses a profound examination of our relationship with media consumption itself. In an era dominated by rapid-fire video clips and fleeting soundbites, we find ourselves inundated with a relentless barrage of media throughout each passing week. We are bombarded by fleeting glimpses into the lives of countless individuals we will likely never encounter. Beau, however, demands that we break this pace, compelling us to engage in introspection and confront the inner workings of our own anxieties. The impact of this experience was so profound that I found myself momentarily disenchanted with movies after watching it. Slowly, however, the film began to grow on me, leading me to ponder the timeless question: “How many movies are simply too many movies?”

Within the landscape of film criticism, where speed is of the essence, there exists a challenging paradox. We are expected to swiftly deliver our verdicts while the movies are still fresh and relevant. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for a movie to settle within our minds and for our opinions to truly take root. At first glance, Beau may appear disconcerting, almost bordering on unwatchable. Yet, in retrospect, it demands our undivided attention, reaching far beyond its runtime. Although I have no intention of revisiting it, my admiration for Ari Aster has grown stronger than ever. This film redefines the very essence of the cinematic experience, provoking us to contemplate the very nature of our existence.

When all is said and done, amidst the vast array of movies, TV shows, and TikTok videos, what remains is that nagging voice within our minds, questioning the purpose and meaning behind it all. Beau engages in a profound dialogue with that inner voice, leaving an indelible mark. For this thought-provoking and even emotionally challenging experience, the movie is undoubtedly worth watching, even if it proves to be a traumatic journey.

#BeauisAfraid #criticism #film

White Noise and the disintegration of the American Dream

White Noise

Kafka wrote a book on America without ever having visited there and basing his visions of the country on the books that came his way. Having never visited America neither but being exposed to American media from a very young age, a composite view America exists in my mind, which is far different from the reality of it.

What is America? On one level, America as the kingdom of dreams is the idea that's sold everywhere. Opulence is the middle name of every American and the pristine, manicured American suburbia is what every middle-class person around the world wants to emulate. America is glitz and glamour, where chewing a toothpick and wearing a cowboy hat is symbolic of masculinity and it is the absolute center of the world: why else would aliens target America and then it's the loci of all modern day gods and superheroes? An alternate picture exists hidden in plain sight in the plumbings of reddit and twitter, of crazy hospital bills, no worker rights whatsoever, a crumbling society outside the moat of billionaires an image of a religious, conservative society that's nothing like the liberal idea of America and the American Dream.

Watching Noah Baumbach's White Noise based on Don DeLillo's novel of the same name, fleshes out the disparities between my imaginations of America as someone who has never been there and that of a top American dramaturgist in great form. The novel inspired a snapshot of images while reading it, especially the “The most photographed barn in America” or mind-bending line that predicted the future in 1985“In the future, data is everything”, though both of these are omitted from the story line, there are new additions, like the scene inspired by Apocalypse Now's opening brings in a new meaning to the source material, with Vietnam war PTSD replaced by the stresses of American consumerism and the impending fear of death that it helps mask. While lacking the literal acuity of the book, the movie wraps itself with the complexities that can be reached through filmmaking, the fact that the movie got made is a proof in itself as the White Noise was especially famous for not being “filmable”. Noah Baumbach as the film's screenwriter delivers the literary goods with dense writing aided by terrific performances and cinematography. It's a pity that the movie has been completely snubbed at all major awards this year, as it sits on the same level of ingenuity as Everything, Everywhere All at Once. But that's not a cause of concern, as I am sure that this movie will stand the test of time by being relevant, as it needs another global scale meltdown to truly appreciate this movie.

White Noise deals with contradiction between real and the imagined, showing the disturbed American as the focal point of its story. It's a vital viewpoint, once a decent living standard is attained and all the luxuries of life have morphed into necessities, what becomes of the human? Will life be some kind of paradise or will we be plagued by the same sense of ennui and purposelessness that propels us in the pursuit of material riches to begin with? The answer to this though obvious is often lost in the titillation of consumerism, in the hope that there is a product out there which will quench and absolve us from the dread and loneliness of existing. This is no better demonstrated by Dylar, the fictional, experimental medicine that is supposed to subdue one's fear of death, which Greta Gerwig's character Babette is constantly using throughout the movie. Dylar is the stand in for our next purchase, that glimmering item in the shopping carts of our minds, one which obfuscates our real standing as a living, breathing and decaying beings.

In the context of the 2023 Ohio train derailment which bears an eerie resemblance to the Air Borne Toxic Event from the movie, White Noise is more relevant than ever, both in America and the rest of the world that is permanently hooked to America through its news and culture. It's a movie that shows a rare glimpse into the weaknesses of utopia, that there's no rainbow at the end of the hamster wheel of development. What is America? Its our individual hopes and dreams mixed with desire and longing for something that's beyond the material world, where abstractions are framed as certainties. But we know deep inside, there are no answers but yet, we still keep buying.

#America #WhiteNoise #review #film #essay

“The cast and crew have to say goodbye for their desire to eat animal products during the course of the entire shoot until the day of release. All animals hurt and slaughtered in this film are 100% computer generated imagery. Slaughterhouse, in your favorite theaters soon”

A vegan film, an appropriate fight of our times. A film set powered by plant power, is this the birth of a new era?

#idea #film #vegan

A woman alone in the world

The breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil wars and resulting ethnic cleansing left thousands of families in the Balkans without closure. Blerta Basholli's film documents the tragedy of the Kosovan village Krushë e Madhe, where a hundred civilians were separated from the village and are presumed to be shot. The film follows the story of Fahrije, whose husband disappeared during the war and whose remains do not turn up in any of the mass graves excavated around the village. It leaves a lot of questions for her and her two children while facing a simultaneous battle of being a “dishonorable” woman for driving a car and having ideas for sustaining herself. Fahrije understands that she has to move on and that accepting meager handouts from the local women's community will not help her much in the future. She has to fight against the strict conservative norms applied to the women in Kosovan society to work and build a business of her own, a transformation that not only will uplift her but her friends and neighbors who are in the same tragedy together.

An intense character study, Zgjoi paints a picture of a woman finding her place in the backyard of continental Europe. It's a film with deep lows and gentle highs, though the village accuses Fahrije to be a whore for driving to the city and owning a car, the pain for her missing husband is hidden from everyone. This differential wrings hearts whenever she has to visit the mortuary to find out about the remains of her husband, oftentimes all that is left is a pile of bones or some clothes. This in turn becomes the companion piece for last year's haunting Quo Vadis, Aida? which depicts the genocides of Srebrenica, showing the faces of the men whose bodies will be discovered same way as they do around in Krushë e Madhe. _Zgjoi _ is a far more delicate film documenting the tragedy as it focuses on the aftermath for the grieving families and their struggle to find reconciliation in a patriarchal society that stacks all odds against them.

Fahrije is no ordinary hustler, labelled for being deviant she has to find ways to move on and focus on what is still left, her family. A scene that establishes her plight is a women's meeting where Fahrije protests, “we are not looking for donations, we are looking for work”. Though the women around her are slow to change fearing society, Fahrije takes an enterprising step forward making plans to set up an ajvar-making cooperative. The cooperative then becomes a safe space for the women to find collective healing and a path to redeem their past. There are moments in the film where one cannot but cry, but we cry with Fahrije, we cry for her tragedy and wish for her success. That is a win for Blerta Basholli's wonderful film.

#review #Kosovo #film

Or a masterpiece of on how to see the world.

A good movie can change the way one looks at the world around. Walking out from Wes Anderson's French Dispatch on a rainy Berlin night, the city transformed itself into grim kaleidoscope of tail lights, smoky street lights and warm sign boards. A quick stop at Maroush for a shawarma makali was infused through Mr. Anderson's lens, with the soft bread pregnant with the meat and vegetable sitting warm inside press down toaster while calm Arabic music played over the speakers. It wasn't my first time at the restaurant but this time it felt different, my life played out as if a journalist from Anderson's film was following me, painting my life through words with a color palette I infused through the screen.

A common complaint about the film is that it is about too many things at once. Like a mega mashup of Wes Anderson's repertoire, like he's not going to make another film again. There is no problem with that as there's nothing like too much Wes Anderson. At some point when my bladder was giving away I was hoping that the film wouldn't end soon and that The French Dispatch be a real magazine. This film while being a cinematographic triumph is also deeply literary. I had the same weary buzz of the lack of my own intellectualism when going through the New Yorker, a rare movie that makes you want to keep reading and dreaming for days after one finishes watching it.

#film #WesAnderson #TheFrenchDispatch

Starting to write is the hardest, the actual part of sitting and writing the story. The idea has been brewing in me for years now and I have mapped all the finer details, the whole film plays in my head like I was presenting it to a festival audience. But the actual words on paper are closer to 0. I look for inspiration, I read Aristotle and a whole lot of other books ranging from atomic explosions to living with narcissists.

What nobody tells you is that giving shape to abstract thought is hard, it takes commitment, humility and whole lot of willingness to pain. Sometimes I want to give up before I even start writing, I think the festival audience are booing me and that I will be a one-hit wonder. Or maybe I will not have any hits, I will be relegated to the role of a flop writer, someone who has to fill his last days judging reality TV shows with obnoxious laughter tracks. Writing to fill pages to fill pockets.

I believe that no vantage to reality is wrong, each one presents in itself an aspect of truth that's incorrigible to violate. So the movie in my head has a right to exist, the characters fighting to populate this world. My responsibility is to be their conduit and help lubricate their delivery into being. I am a silent matron to my ideas, in their birth is my continuity.

#film #writing #screenplay

or the lost art of watching cinema

Cinema Amnesia

I recently watched a two hour movie over a period of a week, decimating it to the point of watching single frames at any given moment. It didn't help that the movie was not interesting, but still I took it upon myself as a challenge. Such a viewing misery would have been unfathomable a few years ago, when I trained myself to watch four movies a day without losing steam. I find this similar to my book reading habit that fell off the cliff with the advent of the internet and I do not find these behaviours to be an anomaly but a sign of things to come.

We have forgotten how to watch movies. We have forgotten the very act of seeing. It has been normalized now that we always have a screen where we can see something, all the time. This continual engagement demands that we are not bored at any given instant. Along with this came the idea of constant choice where we can customise what we want to watch and when. Scroll through a video to get where we want – the action bits, the money shots and the tugs of aggression and emotion. Social media became more interactive, delivering dramatic sequences that have been keeping us engaged for more than a decade now.

Watching a movie now is a matter of singular occupation for two hours. We are not watching one movie, our choice always has another on backup. The economic cost of streaming the next movie on Netflix, YouTube or your favourite pirate viewing site is next to nothing – unlike watching a movie in a kino, where there's a high entry cost and we are left with only one perspective of choice made by faceless humans. This leaves us with the question, is a trip to the kino worth the 8 euros I am paying for a movie?

With endless choice also comes the problem of endless selection. Gone are the days of a singular recommendation or a collective euphoria over a show. Content has become disposable and goes stale faster than your average news cycle. Netflix's early proposition of endless choice came with its own pitfall – the moment it stops offering its consumers the choice, they will leave the platform. This spin of choice has to be constant or even overwhelming to lull a customer into a state of constant monthly spending. This is in contrast with earlier iterations of film viewing where one had to go to the kino or buy physical copies of films or even pirate them online, which gave access to content one piece at a time. This attached more value for a movie, which results in a more concentrated approached to the act of viewing.

”(1925?) The TALKIE opens its doors to theatre which occupies the place and surrounds it with barbed wire.” – Robert Bresson

I am not complaining that cinema is in some kind of post-capitalistic fugue, it has always been the balm of the industrial masses and it is here to stay. This does not mean that the current form it assumes is immune to criticism, it serves the same function as stress shopping or yoga does after a long day's work. It makes one forget about the immediate reality and gives the right amount of dopamine ping to work for another day and then another. In this respect cinema loses its status as an art-form and becomes a crutch to escape from everyday reality. This crutch is formless and shapeless, except that it has to have a moving image that ticks the right boxes. An extreme form of this manifestation can be seen the status end-titles are given on Netflix: they are an afterthought in the production mill of content. The hundreds of faceless people are stripped off responsibility for the convenience of speed. The byproduct is that most movies on streaming platforms come and go without having any effect on us whatsoever. The yesteryear cinematic spectacle is now transformed into an endless looped GIF to be shared on a social media site of your preference.

This is not saying that cinema is in danger. It is – the pandemic disrupted our very act of collective gathering before an image on the screen. Content is now hyper-individualized, once we get a taste of this it is hard to go back. But I see hopeful signs as kinos around the world open up and new releases slowly make inroads into our colloquial language. The days of the art-house cinephile might be coming to an end as the theatres can only host big-budgeted Hollywood crowd pullers to sustain their revenues. Though I hope a self correcting mechanism will rise organically which helps bring the art of watching back into vogue. Distanced from capital, cinema is one of the truly collective meditative experiences that creates a sense of community without demanding anything in return. Or maybe dream will never manifest and Tik-Tok becomes the fractured reality model we want to consume. Cinema becomes the bastion of a few, sinking in a sea of choice.

#film #philosophy

A film by Aki Kaurismäki

Pay for the flat two months in advance, cash. File all notebooks and books, seal and pack them. Put them in the street corner where the free clothes and old books overflow from an ageing hippie's window. Be unseen, make no friends. Have a tape for company, singing John Yager's “Benson, Arizona”.

Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I

Remember the idea you once heard on the U-bahn? The idea that the easiest way to die is to drink two bottles of high grain Finnish vodka and sleep naked on a cold street? The alcohol will easen the hypothermia and one dies in the hotness of the cold. Have no papers what so ever, they are shattered and scattered all across small rest stops in Sweden and Norway. Cancel all accounts, stuff all your pockets with small change and feel rich. So much paper, maybe give some homeless guy a 100 and a bottle of champagne. Talk to him (or her), ask how he moves. Friends receive post-dated letters, cryptic enough to validate a disappearance but not distant to accommodate the fear of death. Burn all certificates, flush them down the toilet. They are a chain – a tether to concepts sold to you, and us. Ridding of all official documentation is the destruction of the social self, home is nothing but an illusion. There never was a home outside of us, just a constant search for one. The tape recorder creaks the same song on loop.

Buy tickets with your spare cash. Be kind to the clerk, be kind to anyone you meet. Give them a genuine human interaction, that is to say don't be an ant. No fake hellos and goodbyes. Drink with merry in bars with bad music and worse patrons, let the beer overflow in preparation for the vodka singes. Bathe in cold water, soak but don't dry. Every experience is in preparation for the final one – know that you are time and time projects the whole universe in you, 13.6 billion years if the current view is to believed. A name is the first employ of funneling personality. Name yourself anything else, Fish is a good suggestion. Dry on the Nordic shores, salted through frozen waves. There's the mermaid Ice Queen sitting somewhere in a costume. Go out to find her, in places where the language is the final diffusion of silence into emotion. A long dinner table covered in red tablecloth, plastic flowers wilting. Cook your chicken in the embers of your accumulated love. One final dusk, reds, dark violets and pluming clouds. Fall in love at every opportune moment. The cadaver if eaten by a wolf will bear the little symbolism of your existence. If there is luck the body will not be incinerated in some drab Norwegian morgue. Make paperwork easy, talk to the Syrian refugees. Dip yours fingers in sulfuric acid just when the drowsiness from the vodka is electrifying your nerves. You will pass out in the cold, dark night of the winter.

Why are you on this journey? Physical desires can be within reach but what about when searching for something that is not there? Where to reach out to if there is only stale air from previous attempts? Questions ask questions in infinity. There is peace in the silence of the mind. A nameless alcoholic that has be duly disposed off. This is the end of an animate story. Do not be afraid, shut your door behind you with no afterthought. Remember, there is no light in the polar shadows.

The tape recorder creaks with the stuck cassette:

Now the seasons flick on by
like seconds on this ship.
An' I take another pull
from the flask that's at my hip. The mighta-beens and the never-weres can drive a man insane. So-I think I'll stay out in the Void 'cause Benson's not the same.

#film #philosophy

Music is essential from scene setting, it enhances and adds a solid landscape for mundane things like a person walking to the profound matters of the heart. Great music when merged with a good visual story can alter the non-film reality because music is more subconscious than the way we perceive narrated information.

Living through the day is a narrative experience, one that involves conversations, transience and the Hero journey. We walk into stories and continue existing ones. It is in this perspective that music comes in, it creates a richer alternation to the one that already is. It changes the view without changing the context, so that the execution of the story is not botched.

It is in this indelible context that music can change how we look at life itself. Having periods of time attributable to a certain shape and form of music. It needn't come from speakers alone, the birds, the sound of tires, rustling wind and jackhammers all lend the same aesthetic quality as well tuned studio production.

Music, when viewed through film also juxtaposes multiple asymmetric visions into one – it's almost invariable to not imagine the opening scene of Apocalypse Now when I see a ceiling fan while while lazing on a hot Indian summer afternoon, the images of cinematic violence flash along with Francis Ford Coppola's visions of Vietnam – a feat unified by the dreamy mix of The End by the Doors. I also associated this montage with my dreams of Varanasi, where I sat by the Ganges and saw the sunrise after wandering in the nights with the outcasts and the holy drunks. It was the same intro piece of music that I first heard in a friend's apartment in Bangalore, while going through a rather hard breakup. The song now has travelled with me for years, along the way accumulating film and real history. In my mind's eye it has its own progression – a movie of its own. When I watched Apocalypse Now in a Parisian kino last year, the opening had the same profound effect as the first time I watched on my computer a decade ago.

In this sense, music helps build a dense world of references where the images inspire further moments but are still connected by the same, unchanged beat. The experience of seeing the opening of Apocalypse Now has my own progression as a person etched onto it, effecting the rest of the film and what happens when I come out from the kino. A world where city scapes are painted by Vangelis' score from the Bladerunner and the Metro tunnels are haunted by Thomas Bangalter's Irreversible urban techno trauma.

Music in film helps forming a complex image through an additional layer of stimulus that also works the other way – images have their own musical composition hidden in the folds of their action. This meshing between both the senses bridges the border less world between film and reality, making the world an extension of one's mind's eye. As long as there is music and there is a will to dream, we are all making movies beat by beat and frame by frame.

#film #music