Saturday, June 28, 2008

Boutique, an intense Iranian film

Serious cinema that instinctively casts itelf in opposition to Hollywood style of story telling (acting, frames, camera movements, pacing of scenes and shots) demands attention and engagement from viewers. Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times fails to see the difference. Not only does he want every Iranian film to be a masterpiece, he confuses boredom (lack of action?)that emanates from the tragic, depressing and stagnant lives of young men sharing an apartment for weak direction. His complaints "A lot of screen time is spent on the roommates sitting around talking, often about nothing in particular, way past the point of tedium" or "Etti and her dreams bring the film into focus, but Nematollah (the first-time director) can't seem to resist diffusing it with sequences that go on too long" is typical of a child-viewer who's more at ease with the idiom that Hollywood - and by extension most entertainment - hammers into our brain.
Serious films - even when they're made to entertain as well - have to be viewed differently. Slow, unusual pacing of shots allows viewers to engage with what may be happening underneath the skin of the characters who seem depressed, lonely, angry, rejected, inept, unloved, confused. The filmmaker, by his/her choice of lens, camerawork, dialogues, lighting, long shots, forces viewers to examine the worlds the loneliness inside each one of us may have come to resemble. A serious filmmaker tries to bridge the gape between the highly philosophical and banal, attempts to bring into a clash/contrast the exterior and the interior of his characters.
Robert Koehler writing in Variety is more on the mark when he points out, "In this wide-ranging and despairing portrait of a society in crisis, Nematollah's camera frequently seems as loose and unhinged as his characters, some of whom while away the day addicted to opium or watching the tube. Golzar, departing from his usual mode as a bland matinee idol, uses Hamid's subdued nature as a front; when he explodes with anger at the end, it's the rage the movie has been building slowly to all along." Yet the fact is that we don't see Golzar explode in voice, only in action, even that only off camera. The entire scene puts the likes of Scorcese, Spielberg, Tarantino and many other icons of Hollywood to the dustbin of mediocrity. A lesser film would have the half-conscience of the film, the male hero, explode, a lesser filmmaker would have allowed the lead actor to unleash his talent, his range, from subdued to meteoric. However, one of the memorable scenes, acting-wise, takes place at a bridge over street traffic: the lead actress, Golshifte Farahani, who completely succeeds in keeping the audience ambivalent, even irritated, about her childlike behavior, in fact, explodes, revealing an anti-heroine, an angry young woman suffocating inside her. The range of acting the two display should give the viewers some hint into the rich and complex Iranian school of acting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

La Notte: a masterpiece

I finally saw Antonioni's masterpiece La Notte. All the three main artists are superb. But if someone pushed and I had to choose, I'd say Marcello Mastroianni has a mastery of facial expressions where he can simultaneously exude contrasting feelings. Cinematography is just breathtaking and Antonioni's framing evokes such an intense intellectual response. Consider a scene: Jeanne Moreau feels trapped in large crowds and, wandering throughout the huge house where the party takes place, she ends up in a room from where she happens to look down through a large glass window at her novelist husband, Mastroianni, kissing Monica Vitti who while playing cat and mouse tells him to go back to his wife, he tells her, accurately, that it was infact his wife who'd had prodded him to Vitti. In a somewhat similar shot, Moreau locks her gaze, again through similar angle (up to down), briefly with another man she probably have known in the past. She averts her gaze. The framing of shots is simply amazing! Rain comes down and Moreau and the man take off in his sports car. The car parked, he tries to kiss her. She realizes she can't respond. They drive back. In the mean time, back at the house, lights go out when Mastroianni searches for his wife. Antonioni creates such a simple but intense geometry of emotion and then replicates it with surroundings or architecture that hightens alienation. More to come, perhaps.
The party takes place throughout the night. The couple visits a dying friend in a hospital. At some point Moreau phones the hospital from the party house and finds out the friend has died.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Idol Lover and Other Stories: Praise, Encouragement, Critique

I received the following comment from Leslie Simon, a poet based in San Francisco:
"Though I never made it to the reading, I picked up a copy of The Idol Lover at City Lights and thoroughly enjoyed it. Your prose is stunning, and you address politics with a clear eye on the complexities of race, class, gender, nation state. I'm very impressed. I also loved how you moved into the SF context in the second half, giving voice to the cafe society in our midst, both what it gives and what it takes aways. Having worked both sides of the counter as a waitress and a poet, I appreciate your honesty."
Comment by poet and novelist (Mobility Lounge) David R. Lincoln:
"In case this email ever finds its way to you, let me extend my congratulations on the collection of stories that, for me for the first time, gives me insight into my old friend Moazzam, to such an extent that I feel I've met an entirely new friend. Especially, I thought, the title story and Gypsy Leaves, provide us with an engaging voice of a daring new writer."
Comment email to me by novelist (God Bless the Squirrel Cage) Nick Sarno III:
"I just wanted to write a short note to let you know how much I enjoyed The Idol Lover. I read it in three sittings over the course of two days late this week."
Sweetest words by a poet friend, Evelyn Posamentier, to a listserv of women poets:
". . . it occurs that I should mention that my friend, Moazzam Sheikh's new book of short stories, The Idol Lover is stunning and most beautiful."
Via email, by a writer/poet/artist friend, Rinku Dutta, "Ayesha had a copy of your book and I got to read it. Congratulations on a brave exploration of unspoken grounds. I had read Monsoon Rains earlier, and I like it the most. Snakeskins was most intriguing.Looking forward to your next collection."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

the road home: movie by zhang yimou

i can't recall seeing this particular technique in any other movie: present in b&w and past in color. that in itself was good. otherwise, it was hard to believe that the director of movies such as red sorghum and ju dou would have gathered gallons of sap (most of it in the color part) directly extracted from a tree called bollywood/lollywood. one could call the movie a borderline tear jerker. also, the movie never bothers to look into the previous life of the teacher (who comes to the village) and falls in love with the village girl. he seems to have no past or constraints, no parents, no tragedy, nothing, except a cliche of a city where he comes from (more than once), causing tremendous grief to the narrator's mother. the only level where the choice of a colorful past works is that it doesn't bother with complexities, so it stands as romaticized vs "real". music is weak and elevatorish for the most part. cinematography is typically beautiful, especially when in color, takes away from the movie - out-of-africa-esque, internalized orientalism i may be allowed to say. acting was above average, quite good at times. this fact hits in the most vulnerable spot of my cinematic eye. compared to the international standard, indian and pakistani mainstream acting is so bad it hurts.

- moazzam

Entering the age of blogging

it feels weird. it's like suddenly owning a cell phone without the skill or desire to use it. i have a feeling this blog is going to be an excercise in minimalism. i think it'll be mostly about issues regarding writing, films, politics, media, friends, writers, actors, their stories, events at the library where i work worth sharing.

- moazzam