Category Archives: Films

Film Review: Menashe

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Director: Joshua Weinstein
Starring: Menashe Lusting (Mensashe); Ruben Niborski (Rieven); Yoel Weisshaus (Eizik)

In this tender drama on self, family and community, director Joshua Weinstein deftly weaves together the story of a father longing to be with his son in the face of opposition from the Hasidic Jewish community around him.

Menashe is a recent widower. After his wife’s death, his son, Rieven, was sent to live with the boy’s uncle. Menashe pleads the rabbi to let Rieven live with him but is told that he must first remarry and get his house in order.

He lives in a dingy studio apartment and can’t cook even the most basic of Jewish dishes. Nor does he have any desire to remarry. He convinces the rabbi however, that he will prove himself a good father by hosting the community at his home on the occasion of his late’s wife’s memorial.

Menashe is a rare look into the world of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Weinstein captures the cultural and social landscape with its yeshivas, matchmakers and Yiddish folk songs against the universal themes of a father’s love for his son and a man’s struggle to be himself.

Weinstein elicits sincere, empathetic performances from Lusting and Niborski which form the heart of the film. Coupled with a simple, human story and a realism rare in American cinema, they make Menashe an intimate, heartfelt film.

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Film Review: “The Black Prince”

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Written and Directed by Kavi Raz

Starring: Satinder Sartaj (Duleep Singh), Amanda Root (Queen Victoria), Shabana Azmi (Maharani Jind Kaur), Jason Flemyng (Dr. Login)

In 1849, the British conquered the Punjab and deposed a ten year old king. The boy was baptized a Christian and exiled to England, where he grew up dancing in ballrooms, shooting wild game and holding court with Queen Victoria.

The Black Prince is the story of Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Punjab. It’s a fascinating story of loss, colonialism and identity, making for a film rich in dramatic potential.

Sadly, Kavi Raz’  The Black Prince is more concerned with characterizing Duleep as an Indian national hero than in charting his own struggle.

The film has its charms. It’s beautifully shot and captures in detail the drawing rooms, gardens and stately palaces of the Victorian era. Satinder Sartaj gives a subdued performance as Duleep while Shabana Azmi’s performance as the fiery Jind Kaur is one of the film’s highlights.

Duleep and Jind Kaur however are mere players in this imagined rendering of India’s colonial past. Duleep is presented to us as the Anglicized Indian who becomes an awakened nationalist, but his inner life is left opaque. Who was Duleep Singh? What was he like as a husband and father? Did he really seek to liberate the Punjab from British rule?

These questions will have to wait for another film. The Black Prince is daring and ambitious in scope, but fails to do justice to the Last Maharaja.

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Film Review: After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く)

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Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

Cast: Hiroshi Abe (Ryoto Shinoda); Yoko Maki (Kyoko Shiraishi); Taiyo Yoshizawa (Shingo Shiraishi); Kirin Kiki (Yoshiko Shinoda).

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

One of the characteristics of Japanese art and poetry is “mono no aware” (物の哀れ), a refined sensitivity to the sorrow and beauty of the transient world. The waning of the autumn moon, the fading of cherry blossoms and the vision of wild geese vanishing into the mountain mist – all these are mono no aware

In Hirokazu Koreeda’s, After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く), Ryota is a writer who has not published anything for years. He gambles away his meager earnings, falls behind in paying child support and watches by while a new beau moves in on his ex, Kyoko and son, Shingo.

One night during a storm, Ryoto, Kyoko and Shingo find themselves stranded at Ryoto’s mother’s (Yoshiko). What follows that night are precious moments for father and son, Ryoto and Kyoko and between Ryoto and his mother …

After The Storm is a film about love, family and forgiveness. It’s a tale of Ryoto who searched for happiness everywhere except for in the present. It’s also Ryoto’s story of a life lived in search of himself. In the tradition of mono no aware, After The Storm, is poignant, poetic and sensitive, a story flowing in soul and dignity with the performances of Abe and Kiki at its heart.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MISbcZZvSPI

 

 

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Om Puri: Four Performances

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Written by Randeep Singh

On January 6, 2017, Om Puri passed away at the age of 66. One of India’s finest actors, he also won acclaim for his performances in British, American and Pakistani films. Here’s a review of just four of his performances.

Aakrosh (1980)

In this devastating indictment of India’s justice system, Puri plays a poor tribesman (Lanya) wrongly accused by his landlords of murdering of his wife. Silent for much of the film, Lanya finally cries out in anguish for deliverance from a life of indignity and exploitation in a masterful balance of intensity and restraint by Puri.

Ardh Satya (1983)

In Ardh Satya, Puri plays a cop battling for his sanity and conscience in a force bedeviled by corruption. Whether in dealing with gang bosses, his superiors, or his domineering father, Puri humanizes the struggle between a life of dignity or selling out to the system.

My Son The Fanatic (1997)

As Parvez, Puri is a whiskey-loving Pakistani immigrant who falls for a local prostitute while his British-born son turns into a religious fundamentalist. Puri deftly plays the role of father, lover and working-class immigrant in one full comic-romantic-dramatic sweep.

East is East (1999)

In another culture clash comedy, Puri plays George Khan, a Pakistani fish and chip shop owner living in Salford in the early seventies. Struggling to establish his sway over his rapscallion Anglo-Pakistani children and his English wife, Puri’s performance elicits laughs, fear and even a little sympathy.

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Film Review: “Coming Home” (‘歸來’)

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Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li (Feng Wanyu), Chen Daoming (Lu Yanshi) and Zhang Huiwen (Dandan)

Rating: 78%

A criminal on the run. A wife told to turn him in. It would have been a crime drama anywhere else. Only in Coming Home, the crime is being an enemy of the Chinese Communist Party. And the drama is set during the Cultural Revolution, the political inferno which engulfed China from 1966 to 1976.

The Cultural Revolution has spawned its own genre of cinema including the epic Farewell My Concubine and the devastating Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. In contrast to those works, Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home is not an angry rebuke at what went wrong, but an elegy of how the Cultural Revolution affects a couple Lu and Feng and their daughter, Dandan, in a provincial town.

Coming Home however falls short of Zhang’s previous work and of films on the Cultural Revolution thanks to its soap-opera treatment replete with endless background music, jarring camera close-ups and even tears which seem carefully choreographed.

The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution is thankfully revealed through the brilliant performances of Li, Chen and Zhang. Lu is a convicted counterrevolutionary who has escaped from a labour camp. Feng and Dandan are summoned in by the police to tell what they know. Desiring the lead role in a revolutionary ballet, Dandan chillingly proclaims her obedience to the party’s commands to turn in Lu.

The tragedy of Coming Home does not sink in until after the film finishes. For all its melodrama, Coming Home is a poignant tale of humanity losing its way and trying to find it again, thanks to the masterful performances of its lead actors.

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Film Review: “Dheepan”

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Starring: Anthonythasan Jesuthaasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers

Directed by: Jacques Audiard

88%

“Je m’appelle Dheepan.”

Dheepan begins on the twilight of the war in Sri Lanka. Sivadhasan (Jesuthaasan), a Tamil Tiger, mourns a fallen comrade. Yalini (Srinivasan), a young woman, wants to escape as a refugee.  Illaya (Vinasithamby), an orphaned girl, becomes Yalini’s ticket. Sivadhasan, now renamed “Dheepan,” Yalini and Ilaya leave Sri Lanka a “family” for France.

Set in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris and amidst a Balzac-like cast of thugs, gang members and drug pushers, Dheepan is raw, dark and moving. Audiard’s direction and storytelling create a picture as close to art and reality as cinema gets. Through the performances of Jesuthaasan, Srinivasan and Vinasithamby, one lives the tears, frustrations and spirit of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya. The war in Sri Lanka lives on not just in memories.

The cinematography of Eponine Momenceau deepens the ambiance with the paddy fields and funeral pyres of Sri Lanka to the smashed lighting strips and marijuana butts littering the housing project. In this Fifth Republic, there is no law, no fraternity. Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya have to fight for a new beginning. In Dheepan, Audiard asks gracefully and frankly whether people can start again.

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India Bound

india_censoredWritten by Randeep Singh

The film Haider was released on October 2, 2014. The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the violent backdrop of Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Among other things, Haider looks at the atrocities of the Indian army. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in India this year.

On October 15, 2014, the Allahabad High Court issued notices to, among others, the film’s director, director and actors to respond to a petition. The petition was filed by the Hindu Front for Justice an organization which seeks to restrain the film’s screening on the basis that it insults the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India.

How does a film like Haider endanger the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India? Aren’t India’s restrictions on the freedom of expression, such as national security, public order and incitement to violence,  sufficient to deal with problems that may otherwise imperil the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India?

The “sovereignty, integrity and unity” limitation on freedom of expression merely enables the Indian power to curb any thought or opinion it deems “anti-national.” And what is more cherished to the Indian nationalist mythology than the idea that India is a benign, secular democracy, a view questioned by Haider?

In its stamping out of ideas, thoughts or opinions, which just may have a ring or truth to them, the Indian state privileges the right of an ambiguous and undefined the “nation” over those of democracy which relies on a free flow of ideas. The result is a narrowing of the Indian mind.

If Haider is restrained from playing in Indian cinemas, the Indian state and its fascist enthusiasts will have again (as they have done before with M.F. Hussain, Deepa Mehta, Sonali Bose, Arundhati Roy, Wendy Doniger) have privileged the rights of the “nation” over those of Indians themselves.

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