Archive | March, 2017

3 Days of the Condor : a review

14 Mar

The wet streets, the smoke emanating from a corner of the frame in a desolate night, the breath vapour, the cigarette(s) (though the number is quite few) is all there, but if you expect a run-of-the-mill noir from Sydney Pollack’s 3 Days of the Condor, you are about to smash against the windshield.

There are too many small, quaint, and big and bold statements in the movie, it subverts many of the stylistic expectations of the noir, and yet is very much part of that stylistic family.  Consider these following facts: our protagonist here is not a Private detective, not attached to the environs of the street, not a lonesome figure out to rub against the world and doesn’t care about its hard edges – no, he is that sample of the romanticized exquisite good life – a reader of fiction.  And not just that, he works amidst books, and he reads detective stories (ok, so not quite the high taste) from around the world.  If film noir is studied as a stylistic quality which fascinates us with the fascination of watching (Oliver Harris’s [see Citations] example is Robert Siodmak’s 1946 movie The Killers, one can also think of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, or Psycho), the fascination of 3 Days of the Condor, and this is the second definitive distinction, is with reading itself – reading fiction, reading photographs, reading the weather… It was the French New Wave which fed on American noir and spoke of camera stylo.  In 3 Days of the Condor we have a homecoming of a profoundly influential style.  Thirdly, the central question of the movie (and I avoid spoilers) is about the unseen politics of publication itself – the protagonist notices that a very ordinary detective fiction in Spanish published from Venezuela is getting translated to languages which cannot boast of prolific translations – like Arabic and Dutch.  He smells something odd, and soon the cleaners come calling.

The feel of the movie – its slow paced melancholy with occasional bursts of action is still resonant and one cannot help but be reminded of such contemporary (and decent) cold war thrillers like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, dir. Tomas Alfredson) Syd Field [see Citations] mentions 3 Days of the Condor as “one of the unheralded great movies of the 70s”(p.116), and this is what led me to watch it.  In many ways the movie is a complementary of the other 1975 great: Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon – this is where the personal intersects with the political, and a political order almost receding to the past, while in 3 Days of the Condor we have the world politics barging into the unsuspecting personal life of the protagonist.  And I cannot immediately think of a more prescient movie when it comes to world geo-politics.

Citations:

Field, Syd. 2005. Screenwriting: Foundations of Screenplay. New York, Delta.

Harris, Oliver. 2003. “Film Noir Fascination: Outside History, but Historically so”, Cinema Journal, 43:1, pp.3-24

 

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The Salesman review

12 Mar

With The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi is back with the stories of the Iranian middleclass, and for the second time he has made waves and dared to breach impenetrable Academy walls.  At the centre of the drama is again another traumatic act of violence, one which the characters should live through; all the more painful because they should also deny it while not being in denial.

Reminiscent of About Elly (2011) not just in the repetition of the lead actor Taraneh Alidoosti but also because of the playfulness and spontaneity that mark the establishing sequences of the film, Farhadi has however turned over from thriller to drama. The Salesman is a deft interweaving of the superbly technicraftive American play, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which the couple Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are playing parts in, as Willy and Linda.    The dysfunctionality of the family in the play is contrasted with the functionality of a robust middleclass life which comes with the normative elements of semblance of gender neutrality, geographical mobility, and consumerism. As violence finds its way in to the private life of this couple, the dysfunctional family of the play breaks down and the breakdown of middleclass normalcy is signified by the substitution of colours and spaces in the film.

The movie opens with a scene of emergency.  The apartment in which Emad and Rana stayed until then is giving way thanks to the work of heavy machinery outside.  This then requires them to move elsewhere in the city.  This enforced mobility is also a celebrated mobility.  The film opens with indoors but soon moves to spaces that gesture infinite continuity outside the frames.  The city, the set of the play as seen from above, the passageways that denote more rooms on the way in the new flat they occupy, all of these point to a liberation from the confinement of the space which was trembling and soon to be grounded.  This implied infinity of space outside the frame is complemented by the material richness caught in the frame.  The colours of the movie turn lush through the bright red and velvety black of the theatre, the soft tones of the green room, the many cartons, pairs of shoes, clothes, shampoos and lotions, and face mask that linger on the screen declaring to us the irony of an unseen Iran where the bauble trying to pass off as understated is in a hysteric symmetry with the irony of the fully clad woman, Miller’s Miss Francis, having to say that she is improperly dressed thus implying Willy’s infidelity.   Farhadi’s middleclass is a tactile reality even as it plays out its aspirational irony in the theatre.  It is the breach of the personal which bridges the gap between the public and the private in the film.  One by one we see the richness of the screen replaced by steady intensifying affect of frugality.  The infinite space return to the closed ones, those of the parking lots, dilapidated homes, darkened classrooms, etc.

What is remarkable about the film is that it conveys a crucial bind of living out (rather than in) the modern, that the distinction between the private and public is also a distinction between plenitude and scarcity of language in these two spheres.  The crucial drama in the film is about maintaining a knowing private life and a repressed public life.  The ingenuity of Farhadi is not in exploring ever new ways of entering the space of the public but of anguishing over the ways to keep it away.  And the audience is neither the bearer of knowledge nor the one who is kept at tenterhooks, but that very epitome of modernity, the doubting subject.

Klapisch’s Erasmus Children

8 Mar

Last week I attended a workshop on internalization of education at Manipal, organized by Manipal University and funded by the EU and a speaker there quipped, but also wanted to be taken seriously, when he said that one of the lasting contributions of the Erasmus programme to the integration of Europe has been that this programme, which is now thirty years old, has also given rise to one million Erasmus babies, i.e. those babies who were born out of couplings of Erasmus students as they were in the programme.

The moment I heard this serious joke I remembered that I know three of them, two born out of the coupling of Xavier and Wendy, and one between Xavier and Isabelle; but not when they were all sharing, with several interesting others, a flat in Barcelona, but a few years later after both of them had gone through their own individual heartbreaks.

I am speaking about the Spanish Apartment trilogy here, beginning with The Spanish Apartment [L’Auberge Espangole](2002), and followed by Russian Dolls [Les Poupées russes] (2005), and then the final instalment, The Chinese Puzzle [Casse-tête chinois] (2013), all written and directed by Cédric Klapisch.

In the first of the three we have Xavier in pursuit of the edge that would fit him in the world of suits and long corridored offices enrolling himself for an Erasmus programme and travelling to Barcelona.  As we reach the second one, the characters are inordinately long past their fun years.  They were chirpy and energetic once, running, cycling, exploring their way through the bright sunlit streets of Barcelona, even as they waged their small battles over the space in refrigerators, the flat, and in each other’s lives.  As we travel to Russia, the atmosphere is gloomy.  We go there for a wedding, but it’s dank everywhere.  The grey exteriors are matched by the motif of deliberation, hesitation, and of finding grandeur in systematic nature of the dragging everyday rather than the spontaneity, the randomness and the wildness that characterized their lives back in Barcelona.  Many of the characters are missing in this second edition and even those who are there put up a painful sense of having left one phase of life behind.  In other words, ageing.

The third edition, the Chinese Puzzle, seem to say that forties is the new youth.  Once again, Klapisch makes some bold sweep of colours and presents us with a New York yet unseen.  The Chinatown here is not the threatening place of alter-law of the noir days.  The conspiracies here are now are merely the workings of a benevolent coincidence.  The third installment brings back the raw energy of the first, its playfulness – including the playing around with representational modes – is as entertaining, and it recasts the hallucination of Xavier from its gloomy environs to pleasant ones even as they are still driven by the same sense of insecurity he lives through.

If The Spanish Apartment is characterized by crowded interiors and sparse exteriors, the outdoors are jam packed in the New York edition.  And when Xavier gets too lonely indoors, he always has the company of German philosophers.  Had the sequel to The Spanish Apartment come to an end with in the bleak and deserted suburb in Russia, one would have never gotten over the hiraet of returning from a foreign exchange programme where you could feel the world once again in all its sense of wonder, and then look back at it after a few months with the certainty that you will never live those days again, except as some kind of sublimation.  Thanks to the last one, Chinese Puzzle, at least one can age with some sense of life intact.  You know, Hegel is right, and he has explained so simply  – all nothingness is the nothing of something.