Pras on WorldFilms: LION (Australia)

lion-1Based on Saroo Brierley’s best-selling memoir, “A Long Way Home,” the film tells the true story of a 5-year-old Indian boy who fell asleep on a train and ended up in Kolkata, thousands of miles from home. Lost and unable to tell authorities the name of his mother or hometown, he is ultimately adopted by a couple in Australia.

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Five year old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, Years later, Mr. Brierley searched for his family back in India armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, to finally return to his first home.

Tagging along with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) one night, Saroo falls asleep on a decommissioned train, which travels some 1,600 miles before letting him disembark in Calcutta. There, everyone speaks Bengali, rather than Saroo’s Hindi dialect, making it doubly intimidating for a boy so far-removed from his family. Saroo can’t speak the local language—Bengali as opposed to Hindi—and he can’t even pronounce the name of his village correctly. Eventually, he is reduced to sleeping in tunnels and stealing food from public shrines. But somehow his innate street smarts kick in, allowing Saroo to survive long enough to be happily rescued from a potentially dire fate.

The director Garth Davis deftly conveys the desolation of Saroo’s situation without wallowing in it, and the 5-year old newcomer non-actor Sunny Pawar gives a terrific performance. The first-time actor is able to transform from a happy, rambunctious adventurer into a dejected soul, both mystified and terrified by the world around him. Saroo is a chatty kid around his family, but when he loses the ability to communicate, he grows introverted. His identity has been ripped away from him, just as his home has.

lion-2Strong emotional scenes arrive at several points in the film.

First, when Saroo somewhat guiltily confesses to his Australian adoptive mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman in an impressive parental role), that he has been spending countless days doing research while seeking out his birth family via Google Earth. The reason for his secrecy? He did not want to hurt the two incredibly generous and supportive people (his adoptive parents) who rescued him from a Dickensian existence filled with poverty, hunger and potential abuse after being taken to a big-city facility for homeless street children.

The second is during a revelation shared by Sue (a presence of maternal tenderness and  devotion). She finally explains to Saroo exactly why she and his father, John (David Wenham), decided to adopt him. Kidman, herself an adoptive mother of two, delivers her words with a nakedly honest emotion.

The final moments in the film when Saroo finally pinpoints his village in India and makes that voyage of rediscovery to a country he is an utter stranger in, especially the emotional scene of reunion with his aged mother surrounded by the entire village celebrating are ones where the film will leave few eyes dry.

LION may be by far the best film to be selected for the 2017 Academy Awards, and I expect atleast a few major Oscar wins for this film. Not the least of which may be the Best Actor choice for Dev Patel’s breakthrough performance.

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Director: Garth Davis. Screenplay: Luke Davies, based on the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. Camera (color, widescreen): Greig Fraser. Editor: Alexandre de Franceschi.With: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sunny Pawar. (English, Bengali, Hindi dialogue)

 

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Pras on WorldFilms: MARGUERITE (French/Belgian, 2015)

In French director Xavier Giannoli’s pitch-perfect comedy of manners, “Marguerite,” a shameless chanteuse with a surplus of money and a shortage of talent buys her way into the spotlight, exposing the hypocrisy of her unctuous social circle in the process. Inspired by screechy American soprano Florence Foster Jenkins — the selfsame person embodied by Meryl Streep in Stephen Frears biopic.

In the decades since her death (tellingly, one month after a career-ending 1944 concert at Carnegie Hall), Marguerite’s real-life model Florence Foster Jenkins hasn’t been so fortunate: Jenkins’ notoriously horrendous voice lives on today in the form of novelty records.

TRAILER OF “MARGUERITE”

One month before the shooting of Marguerite, French writer-director Xavier Giannoli heard about this rival Hollywood film project about the new film by Stephen Frears starring Meryl Streep in the title role, about a real-life American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who is is also the subject of his own film.

When Giannoli first came across Jenkins’s story, a unique tale of a woman, living in the 1920s, obsessed with singing opera, who, unbeknown to her was a terrible soprano – tone deaf, unable to keep pitch or rhythm. Yet, singing in small salons or recital halls, she became popular among audiences who found her outpourings amusing.

Giannoli transplanted Jenkins’s story to Paris, turning her into the hugely delusional Marguerite Dumont (played by Catherine Frot), a woman surrounded by sycophants. While Giannoli’s Marguerite is a film formed under dark clouds, Frears’s version Florence Foster Jenkins has a more comedic twist.

Cold-shouldered by a husband who sees her as “a freak”, Marguerite is embraced by opportunists and anarchists who hear in her voice the sound of someone trying to “exorcise an inner demon” – a review she takes as a compliment. An elaborate conspiracy to protect Marguerite from the reality of her situation results in a series of rehearsals for a grand public performance involving a deaf pianist, a bearded-lady soothsayer, and a blackmailed singing tutor, but Frot ensures that Marguerite is never the butt of the joke.

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 The story begins in 1921 with a performance by Marguerite in her mansion to benefit war orphans. Giannoli sets the scene by following the arrival of a nervous young music student at the Dumont estate. The unsuspecting girl has been hired to sing a duet at a benefit for war orphans hosted by Marguerite herself, where this enigmatic aristocratic (who fussily prepares herself upstairs and offcamera) will be the main attraction. Meanwhile, determined to hear her voice for themselves, two young men — one a journalist (Sylvain Dieuaide), the other a self-styled anarchist (Aubert Fenoy) — scale the wall and sneak into the recital.

Like Jenkins, Marguerite restricts her concerts to a by-invitation-only audience of sycophantic acquaintances, who offer nothing but compliments to her face, while whispering insults behind her back. As the anticipation mounts, her husband (Andre Marcon) invents an excuse not to attend by faking the breakdown of his gorgeous Sima-Standard automobile, clearly determined to avoid the embarrassment — a view counterbalanced by Marguerite’s over-protective butler, Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), who personally encourages her fantasy, even going so far as to photograph his employer in campy secondhand opera costumes.

While the theater audience can’t help but chuckle, the assembled guests are held prisonermarguerite3 by her caterwauling — players in a sort of modern-day “Emperor’s New Clothes,” wherein no one has the courage to tell Marguerite the truth. That dynamic grows even more heightened later when Madelbos blackmails an insolvent opera star (played as a limelight-loving fop by Michel Fau, who milks the role for maximum drama) into giving her voice lessons.

The day after her war-orphan debacle, Marguerite is overwhelmed by a double-edged “rave” in the party-crashing reporter’s paper and a parlor full of white flowers from her “admirers.” (Like the elegant lady that she is, Marguerite favors all things alabaster, giving the film its tony, almost-monochrome aesthetic.) She opts to take these tokens at face value, though Giannoli deliciously implies that they are not what they seem: Madelbos discreetly clips the crueler reviews from the Paris broadsheets so Marguerite won’t see them, exchanging knowing looks with the baron that suggest he was the one to have ordered the flowers.

While “Marguerite” is first and foremost the fable of a woman so smitten with music (and later, by the thrill of an audience) that she feels compelled to practice it well beyond the all-too-evident limits of her own ability. The film also explores the marital dynamic between Marguerite and her opportunistic husband, who tells his mistress that “she bought my title, not me,” but gradually comes to redeem himself.

 Jenkins gave recitals for private audiences for three decades, until her major public concert debut in 1944 at Carnegie Hall was critically savaged and left her devastated. She died shortly thereafter. Jenkins, who was rendered partly deaf by syphilis, dismissed the haters who dared to criticize her singing, whereas Marguerite’s tragic flaw is her impenetrable narcissism. Her tin ear makes it impossible for her to gauge the sounds coming out of her own mouth.

TRAILER OF “FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS”

Pras on WorldFilms: A NOBLE INTENTION (“Publieke Werken”/Dutch)

Its 1888, the magnificent Central Station in Amsterdam is being built, and in an effort to gentrify the area, all houses must yield for the planned luxury Victoria Hotel. A luthier, Vedder, refuses to give his house up, and together with his cousin Anijs – a pharmacist facing legal problems for illegal medical practices – plan a scheme from which they will all benefit, including a colony of poor peat cutters who are promised a better future in the US.

This is a Dutch period drama released in The Netherlands as Publieke Werken (Public Works), after the prize-winning 1999 historical novel of the same name by Thomas Rosenbloom.

a-noble-intention3In 1888 Amsterdam, violin maker Walter Vedder, a widower, lives with his son Theo and maintains a shop in a modest house near the center of the city. The building of the new Centraal Station leads to a development boom, and Vedder’s house is in a prime location. The company that is building the Victoria Hotel wants to buy the house, but while all the neighboring houses are being sold, Vedder holds out for a substantially higher price than the company is willing to pay. He is convinced that he has a strong negotiating position.

Meanwhile, Vedder’s pharmacist cousin Christiaan Anijs and his wife Martha live in Hoogeveen, a rural town in the northeastern part of The Netherlands. The area’s economy is dependent on the surrounding peat bogs. The peat diggers are very poor Jews living in squalid huts. Christiaan has developed a close relationship with some of the Jewish families. In fact, he risks legal prosecution by providing unauthorized medical services to them along with his medicines.

a-noble-intention4A third cousin, Alexander, has emigrated to America. On a return visit to Amsterdam, he tells Vedder that he has become a successful broker for emigrants. Vedder and Anijs decide to get involved in this business by facilitating the emigration of the Jewish peat diggers. They believe they can do well & earn fees  by doing good help the peat diggers find a better life. As they see it, at least, it’s a “noble intention.”

a-noble-intention2a-noble-intention1Screenplay Frank Ketelaar | Based on The award-winning novel ‘Publieke Werken’ by Thomas Rosenboom  | Director Joram Lürsen  | Producer(s) Topkapi Films: Frans van Gestel, Arnold Heslenfeld, Laurette Schillings | Co-producer(s) VPRO, Menuet, I’m FILM & Mythberg Films | Executive Producer Han van der Werf | Year 2015 | Production design Hubert Pouille | Editor Peter Alderliesten – NCE | Casting Kenma Casting | Sound design Herman Piëte | Cast Gijs van Scholten Aschat, Jacob Derwig, Rifka Lodeizen

 

Pras on WorldFilms: THE GREAT MATCH (“La Gran Final” / Various)

A visually breathtaking, gently comic homage to the indigenous communities that are its subject and to soccer’s power to penetrate lives, THE GREAT MATCH  is set in Mongolia, Niger and the Amazon. The film is cast with non-pros, and is an attempt to explore the relationship between the most global of sports and the most isolated of communities.

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Veteran Spanish documentary filmmaker Gerardo Olivares raises crucial questions concerning globalization and the information age with this lighthearted tale of three groups inhabiting isolated corners of the globe, yet all sharing the common goal of watching the 2002 World Cup finals no matter how far they must travel to do so. Germany and Brazil are about to go toe-to-toe in the biggest game on the planet, and despite the fact that they’re hundreds of miles from the Great Matchnearest television, these three soccer-loving groups are determined to witness every breathtaking goal.

The Great Match (or “La Gran Final” as it is known in Spain where it was produced) is a 2006 movie that tells the adventurous story of three devoted soccer fans, about three groups of people scattered around the globe who are all trying to achieve the same difficult project: getting TV reception of the classic 2002 World Cup Final between Germany and Brazil. The protagonists in this epic adventure are a family of Mongolian nomads, a camel caravan of Tuareg in the Sahara, and a group of Indios in the Amazon. These groups, none of whom have ever met each other, but who nevertheless have two things in common: firstly, they all live in the farthest-flung corners of the planet and, secondly, they are all determined to watch the final.  All living about 500 kilometers away from the next town, and the next television, their task remains a particularly daunting one.

Great Match1Getting the World Cup Final on the television doesn’t sound so tough to Americans, but these people live in remote areas of the world where technology is decades behind the US. The film is really less about soccer than it is about the common threads that unite the global community.

Things open in the vast spaces of Mongolia’s Altai mountains, with a group of riders, Great Match3including Dalai Khan (Shag Humar Khan) and Aldanish (Abu Aldanish), using eagles to catch a fox. After the day’s hunting, they head back to the family tent, presided over by a proverb-spouting grandmother (Zeinolda Igaza). Her words of wisdom are faithfully transcribed by Kumar Khan (Kenshleg Alen Khan).
In Niger’s Tenere desert, a caravan of camels, led by Tuareg Hassan (Attibou Aboubacar), comes across a truckload of people on their way to see the game in a nearby town. Since Hassan has a TV set, the camel drivers suggest the truck reroutes to an “iron tree” — an abandoned military installation — which will serve as an aerial. To his frustration, Mohamed (Mohamed Hassan Dit Blinde) is left alone to look after the camels.
The third, most explicitly farcical yarn, set in the relatively claustrophobic jungle, has soccer-shirt wearing tribal hunter Xama (Jenesco Kaapor) trying — and repeatedly failing, like an Amazonian Buster Keaton — to set up a TV set and an ancient dynamo in his compound to watch the game.

Great Match2The “Great Match” is not only a spectacularly photographed film, but it offers fascinating glimpses of otherwise invisible cultures in a charmingly offbeat and engaging way.

Great Match4The scenes from the Mongolian steppes are my favorite, but overall the film serves to demonstrate once again that regardless of culture, physical location or language, guys around the world are all “wired” the same!

Great Match6What made the film fantastic was the dialogue. The cultural nuances and references woven seamlessly throughout the movie kept the film incredibly fast paced. By the end, it seemed as if the viewer (me) had known the individuals and their quirks for years.

Olivares’ cinematography is brilliant. He honed his craft making documentaries for National Geographic, so it’s fair to say the best thing about The Great Match is the stunning camerawork. The film itself is surprisingly humorous, as many of the characters approach their rural existence with good-natured warmth.

The movie itself is not an original idea. The Cup earlier in 1999 had also portrayed the the same motivation among a group of Tibetan monks to watch France 1998 Final Match.

The Great Match

 

Pras on WorldFilms: BRAHMAN NAMAN (English)

Braahman3When a film begins with Jethro Tull playing “Locomotive Breath“, and ends with The Doors singing the “Alabama Song“, it is a film I must make time to sit down and watch.

The other thing that pulled me into “BRAHMAN NAMAN” was a funny but meaningful Braahman6quote at the beginning that pretty much summed up the sentiment of the film.

“All Said And Done, The Young Male, Anywhere In The World, Is A Rather Ugly And Pointless Evolutionary Experiment.”

The brilliant piece of self-deprecation is attributed to a person named Naman, who turns out to be the unwise main character in this teen sex comedy set in 1980s Bangalore.

The film nails the lonely, deeply surreal boys club that is the quizzing subculture. The film (based on a somewhat autobiographical script by Naman Ramachandran) was an entry for Sundance 2016’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

BRAHMAN NAMAN is comedy film set in the 80’s, it revolves around the misadventures of Naman and his friends, a quartet of Brahmin nerds on a Bangalore U. quiz team whose alcohol-soaked mission is to lose their collective virginity. Mukherjee doesn’t hesitate to show how socially entitled young men must learn social boundaries. The film is colored with a few intentionally uncomfortable moments that speak to some social truths, and deeper than merely recognizing juvenile horniness.

Naman (Shashank Arora) is a budding quiz master who wears his intellect as a suit of armor; he  spends his days sharing bits of random information and sexual trivia with his teammates, Ajay, Ramu, and Randy. Bossy and arrogant in his narrow social circle of similar brainiacs, Naman routinely leads his school to victory on the collegiate quiz competition circuit of the mid-’80s. But none of this pointless knowledge can help Naman and his pals in getting close with girls, which, in a way, is the real obsession of this movie, and not, (as you might have believed) Quizzing.

Braahman2 This is one subject Naman and mates Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) seem really interested in, and of which they as yet have no personal experience. But they are obsessed with sex. Yet the foursome also fear the opposite sex, who are treated both as objects of lust and hostility. When not fantasizing about theoretical conquests — notably Rita (Subholina Sen), a beauteous lower-caste local girl whom Naman can’t bring himself to talk to — they spend most of their time seeking inebriation with Brecht-Weill’s “Whisky Bar,” aka “Alabama Song,” as musical theme.

Eventually, accompanied by new junior-classman teammate Randy (Vaiswath Shankar) and a none-too-responsible adult chaperone (Denzil Smith), they take the train to a nationwide quiz championship in Calcutta. En route, Naman meets his intellectual match in the words of a pretty Madras girls’ team leader. Those words are spoken by Naina (Anula Navlekar), a young woman who calls Naman on his shit the first moment the two meet, just strangers on a train. She points out, matter-of-factly, that its obvious he is in love with her. They share a thermos of booze in between train cars, and she continues to speak with unbridled frankness.

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“Brahman Naman” (whose somewhat autobiographical script) was written by Naman Ramachandran, a journalist and critic, drawing on his own university experience and integrating the quiz-competition milieu, which provides an appropriate setting where nerdy virgins can test their personal and social limitations.

The Netflix release, directed by Qaushiq Mukherjee, pays homage to American sex comedies from Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds to There’s Something About Mary. Mukherjee departs from the American formula and instead inserts a healthy scrutiny of India’s caste system.

Production

(U.K.-India) A Riley presentation in association with Comiche of an Oddjoint production. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Steve Barron, Celine Loop. Executive producers, John Herbert, Hani Farsi, Naman Ramachandran, Jeremy Gawade, Erica Emm, Debbie Vandermeulen. Co-producer, Alex Dunnett.

Crew

Directed by Q. Screenplay, Naman Ramachandran. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Siddhartha Nuni, Q.; editor, Manas Mittal; music, Neel Adhikari, Miti Adhikari; music supervisor, Iain Cooke; production designer, Tabasheer Zutshi; art director, Krishna; set decorator, Tabasheer Zutshi; costume designer, Ritarupa Bhattacharjee; animation, Xtrathin Design, Karthik Ramachandran; sound/sound designer, Tarun Bhandari; re-recording mixer, Stefan Marchetti; assistant director, Indu Antony; casting, Rii, Pooje Hegde, Nalini Rathnam.

With

Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Vaiswath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Subholina Sen, Anula Shirish Navlekar, Siddharth Mallya, Sid Mallya, Denzil Smith, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Shataf Figar. (English dialogue)

Pras on WorldFilms: WINTER IN WARTIME (Dutch/English/German)

WINTER IN WARTIME is a film set winter of 1944 in a village in the Nazi-occupied WINTER2Netherlands (as Holland endured the Nazis’ icy grip) and shot in Lithuania, is an adaptation of a semiautobiographical 1972 novel by the Dutch author Jan Terlouw, who lived under German occupation for five years. The period was known in the Netherlands as “the Hunger Winter.” The film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.

The narrative framed in a boy’s coming-of-age story in a snowbound rural Holland, contemplates the fog of war and the mysteries of adult life through the eyes of Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), the 13-year-old son of the town’s stoic mayor, Johan van Beusekom (Raymond Thiry).

It’s January 1945, a time when the Nazis’ defeat was beginning to seem inevitable, and the temptation to play it safe in occupied territories must have been strong.

Michiel, a fresh-faced 14-year-old, yearns to join the resistance. Michiel views his father’s uneasy cooperation with the Nazi authorities with disdain, even though it is essential to maintaining the fragile peace in the area. In his mind, his father, the mayor is seemingly only interested in maintaining the status quo between the town and the German Army.

WINTER4The boy also looks up to his dashing Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), a hearty resistance fighter who arrives for a visit carrying a suitcase filled with ration cards, canned sardines and a radio. Ben, who appears to have better connections with the local German authorities than Johan, isn’t exactly what he seems. Meanwhile, an allied plane is hit in the air and crashes, but before it hits the ground, a young British airman named Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) is able to escape by parachute. Michiel (who wants to contribute as his uncle Ben does to the resistance) finds the downed and the wounded RAF pilot in the nearby woods, and now gets his chance.

But he quickly finds himself mired in a hornet’s nest of murky motives and multiple identities. Given the times and Michiel’s adolescent need for heroes and villains, neutrality is not an option. The boy finds it increasingly difficult to tell which of his beloved immediate family and the village elders is a resister, an informer, or an appeaser of the occupying Nazis.

Michiel’s father is arrested when the body of a German soldier, killed by Jack on the night of the plane crash, is found in the forest. Jack wants to turn himself in to save Michiel’s father, but Ben tells Michiel he can save his father. Ben’s efforts fail, and Michiel’s father is shot by the Germans.

Michiel tries to take Jack to the town of Zwolle, across a river, but the Germans foil their attempt, and the two narrowly escape after a chase through the forest. Michiel finally turns to his Uncle Ben for help in getting Jack to Zwolle. Ben agrees, and Ben, Jack and Erica set off for the bridge to Zwolle. As they leave, Ben tells Michiel that Dirk should never have gotten Michiel involved with Jack. After they go, Michiel realizes that he had never mentioned Dirk’s role to Ben. Quickly checking Ben’s suitcase, he finds papers showing that Ben is working for the Germans.

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Pras on WorldFilms: NIGHT OWLS

The story follows Kevin (Adam Pally) and Madeline (Rosa Salazar), two misguided souls helplessly bound together by a string of circumstances that only make sense as time unfolds.

The film introduces protagonists Madeline and Kevin as they stumble back to Madeline’s place after meeting at a banquet. She’s a bartender by trade, viper-eyed and lubricious; he’s a goofy, good-natured bumbler all too willing to ignore this scenario’s many red flags. For one, her expansive home and vintage wine collection appear several tax brackets removed from what anyone on a bartender’s salary could afford, and she seems almost feral in her haste to ignore his get-to-know-you small talk and get down to business.

Night Owls 1When he awakens shortly after consummating this hurried love affair, Kevin makes several unpleasant discoveries. He discovers that the fancy house that was their trysting place isn’t Madeline’s. It belongs to her married ex-boyfriend, Will (Peter Krause), the town’s sanctified college football coach, who’s out of town preparing for a big game and who is also Kevin’s boss and idol.Next, worse still, Kevin finds Madeline unconscious on the bathroom floor and barely breathing having downed a whole bottle of Xanax while he was sleeping.. The camera observes them in the bathroom, where discovering an empty bottle of Xanax, Kevin shakes her awake, makes emergency phone calls and is advised to induce vomiting and keep her awake.

Before long, however,“Night Owls” softens and loses its edge once Madeline begins to sober up, the pair resolve to make the most of the situation, and the pic downshifts into an increasingly earnest slice-of-life. At which point she and Kevin share their stories (she is a bartender) and enjoy a moment of tenderness. The movie touches on corrupt sports management. It turns out that the sainted Will, who shows up at the very end of the movie, isn’t as heroic as Kevin had believed.

Night Owls 2Rosa Salazar and Adam Pally attack their roles with gleeful ferocity, and turn a simple script into an engaging film through superb execution. The real fun is watching the mystery unfold minute by minute.