By Shambhavi Saxena:
Do you feel that mainstream Bollywood’s melodramatic plotlines and choreographed dances (that everyone from the hero, to the street vendors miraculously seems to know) can only be endured so much? You are not alone. The machismo of the male lead, characteristic helplessness (and not to mention size-zero-ness) of his love interest, inexplicable mountain-top song sequences and overdone comedy gags that are your garden variety of sexism, fat shaming, ableism, and all manner of phobe-ishness may work well for India’s masala films and the thousand fans who eat, breathe and sleep Bollywood, but for the rest of us, it can be a huge bummer to find ourselves watching the tired old stories in perhaps louder an flashier garbs. Many movie buffs mourn the condition of story-telling in Indian cinema, ever since the commercial take-over after the 1970s, which has been regarded as the sacrifice of engaging and meaningful film for the sake of box office ratings and immense profits.
But the average movie-goer seeking a more profound cinematic experience needn’t fret, at least not in our day and age, where technology has provided a glimmer of hope in the form of digitally recorded films, online viewing subscriptions, and (dare we bring up this less ethical mode of consuming films) pirated files on the internet. One no longer needs to depend on the whims of the local theatre or multiplex or production houses’ next ‘blockbuster’ release when the world of cinema, and of varied genres and languages, is now easily accessible.
As 2014 draws to a close, and the cold weather seeps in through the soon to be sun-less sky, there’s no better way to spend a lazy weekend at home with some brews and a good movie. Fortunately, there are some of those said weekends left in the year, and here is a list of ten great films you should definitely check out before 2015 rolls in!
The White Balloon
Originally titled Badkonake Sefid, the film was directed in 1995 by Jafar Panahi and is a charming story about Razieh, who wants to celebrate the Iranian New Year by buying a goldfish for the family pond, and receives not only the sum of money but also a string of mishaps along the way. Set in the criss-crossing streets of Tehran’s markets and residences, the film is a contemporary take on life in Tehran from the perspective of a seven-year-old. There are no villains and cop chases, just a simple story and a compelling performance by Aida Mohammadkhani.
Stanley Ka Dabba
Stories about children aren’t necessarily made only for children. In fact, taking on the world we live in from a child’s point of view is a favourite among writers and filmmakers alike to talk about otherwise ignored issues in our society. Without giving too much away about Amole Gupte’s 2011 flick, this is a story about childhood, about friendship, and about recess, the last of which will certainly bring back fond memories of our school days, sharing lunches and cribbing about our teachers’ idiosyncrasies, but this movie is also about … well, watch and find out!
Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 Spanish language film follows the trials of Ofelia, the stepdaughter of the tyrannical Captain Vidal, a figure of fascist forces, in post-Civil War Spain. There is magic, drama, and CGI galore, but its socio political reflection of guerilla warfare, murder and abuse makes it a much darker take on childhood than the two mentioned above. One may broadly classify it as a fairy tale, which Ofelia is obsessed with, but whether or not the conclusion lives up to that description is up to you.
Mary and Max
Just because it’s claymation, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this in your twenties and beyond. The 2009 film comes from director Adam Elliot depicting the flourishing friendship between a middle aged man in New York and a lonely little girl in Australia, by way of written correspondence. It is a love story of sorts, but not at all what you would expect. This film is just plain lovely.
Straight from Mumbai, India, and exactly what one would expect from Kiran Rao and Amir Khan’s cinematic partnership, this 2011 film is terrifically refreshing. Told from the points of view of a reclusive painter, a ‘foreign return’, a strapping dhobi with silver screen dreams, and a young wife who exists only as a video recording, this film will linger on you long after the credits have rolled away.
No Man’s Land
If you’re a bit of a history / political science / international affairs / war movie nut, this one’s a perfect fit for you. Set in a conflict zone in Bosnia/Herzegovina, Danis Tanovic’s 2001 film about what it really means to be in a hot war will have you on the egde of your seat. The most profound moment of the film is the arrival and withdrawal of the UN Peace Corps. If anything, the title says it all.
Thrills and suspense of a different kind abound in Danish filmmaker Laurich Munch-Petersen’s 2005 flick about two ‘robbers’ who hijack an ambulance and stir up much trouble in south Copenhagen. The film has a simple but haunting quality,that will test your conception of morality and what it means to be a hero and a villain.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
Like Bollywood, Hollywood too is guilty of producing overhyped, formulaic movies en masse, but this English film makes the list simply by virtue of being a non-flashy, well constructed documentation of graffiti and street art, principally that of notorious and elusive British artist, Banksy. The film doesn’t cull out exquisite answers for ambitious questions, it simply tells the story of street art, its anonymity, its dangers and its effects on the eyes that view it. At the core of the film is an exploration of art as a paradox – art as something which tries to escape definition and maintain its ephemerality and transcendental qualities, and is at the same time subject to definition and commercialization.
The Green Butchers
This Danish film directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, and starring Mads Mikkelsen as ‘Sweaty’ Svend in the role of a morally challenged butcher; it is perhaps best to term it as a black comedy. This film is sure to make you do one of two things – keep you in splits, or make you blink in disbelief. One thing is for certain though, it is extremely uncomfortable. The gore levels on this film are practically Dora the Explorer, but the themes may be a bit much for a sensitive audience, unless you’ve enjoyed films like Delicatessen and The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Part of the reason alternative cinema is so great is because stepping away from mainstream Hollywood or Bollywood (or Tollywood, Lollywood, and all the others) means exploring cinematic and cultural traditions from generally underrepresented areas of the world. French director Eric Valli’s film set in the highest habitable (and inhabitable) reaches of the Himalayan mountain ranges, tells the story of a Nepalese community of yak herders. The events are told gracefully and steadily and there is ample time to absorb the dramatically different customs of the Himalayan people. The trajectory is simple, following a chronological sequence, has a central conflict, rather similar to the tradition of heroic epics, and a final resolution. There is even your standard hamartia in the two main male leads, the older chief Tinle, and the younger Karma.