Tag Archives: neo realist cinema

Uttarayanam

Award winning avant garde Malayalam film “Uttarayanam” (1974) directed by G. Aravindan and starring Sukumaran, Adoor Bhasi among others.

The underlying theme of the movie is exposing corruption in ideology. The film focuses on the main protagonist Ravi who is a masters in literature and reads literary masters but does not find any employment anywhere, typical of the scene in 70s Kerala.

His grandfather was a follower of the Gandhian principles of non violence whereas his father had taken up the revolutionary ideals of Bhagat Singh. The film moves into flashback mode to show us the conflicting ideologies at play.

He seeks company of Kumaran Master, the last known friend of his father, who gives him letter of recommendations to one Gopalan who had during the revolutionary movement turned sides against them, but is now a corrupt politician. His friend David who hated politics from his college days is now a trade union leader, mediating for business persons against difficult labour situations. His another friend from college days Premkumar (Sukumaran) who is now a medical rep but spends his leisure time on drinks, smoke and women.

So Ravi is a confused aatma frustrated at not getting his due worth. His family is worse off, not having even milk to drink coffee with. There are only empty promises and corrupt ideologies with hypocrisy ruling the roost.

Aravindan has crafted a masterpiece with his first ever movie. His opening long shot of a train amidst the green foliage of Kerala is breathtaking and so is the camera work and cinematography throughout the movie. There are long shots which are picturesque as well as stunning close range shots through cubby holes, windows, doors which are quite brilliant. The silhouette shot of the cover image is breathtaking. Its a kind of a neo realism cinema practiced by the masters like Satyajit Ray, Vittoria de Sica and others with closer to the ground natural settings. imdb 7/10

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Peruvazhiyambalam

Award winning Malayalam movie “Peruvazhiyambalam” (1979) directed by P. Padmarajan and starring Asokan, Bharath Gopy, Lalitha, Azeez among others.

Made in a new realist style subtly depicting the impact of violence on a society. Prabhakaran Pillai (Azeez) is a local goon who has gone to prison for 3 months on a female sexual violence charge. He comes back to the village and terrorizes people, kills the witness who gave him away.

Raman (Asokan) is a young kid staying with his two sisters. He is a hot headed young boy not given to servitude. Prabhakaran Pillai has raped one of his sisters. In a local festival there is a scuffle between the two which results in the death of Prabhakaran Pillai. Raman goes on the run.

He is saved by a local tea shop owner Vishwambaram (Bharath Gopy) who lodges him with a prostitute Devayani (Lalitha). She starts developing maternal instincts towards the boy. But the boy is restless, he wants to learn about news of his village and wants to go back.

In the end he goes back to the village and a small crowd gathers around him in awe of him. The film uses violence as a metaphor for respect, awe and leadership. Prabhakaran Pillai gains respect because of his violent streak but Raman garners respect because of his violence in ending another greater and evil violence.

Overall acting by everybody is superb, music by M.G. Radhakrishnan is brilliant. Padmarajan has used minimal lighting and special effects in the making of this movie. It won the national award for best film in malayalam in that year.

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Chaalchitra

Avant garde neo realist movie by Mrinal Sen “Chaalchitra” (1981).

Young Dipu (Anjan Dutt) is a bright impressionable wannabe writer with stars in his eyes. He meets the leading editor of that time Utpal Dutt who offers him a chance to become a writer if he is able to bring in a story in two days’ time, the only condition being that the story should sell.

Dipu lives in a dilapidated chawl with his family and he sees every experience as a potential story. His mother uses coal for cooking which emits lot of smoke and is bad for the eyes and health. He then encounters the women who exchange new utensils for old clothes through extensive bargaining. He then meets a road side astrologer and interviews him to write a story.

But Dipu is not able to connect any of these stories and he is not able to put pen to paper. Two days are over and he meets the editor who is upset that he is not able to bring in a story. Dipu then narrates few themes to the editor who then becomes excited and urges him to build a story. But Dipu’s story has lots of ifs and buts upon which the editor comments that he is probably a communist.

In the end he gets a job in a newspaper not as a writer but as a technician in the press. He then finally manages to buy the much required for LPG gas for his mother. Most of the shots are closer to reality including the street shots of Calcutta. Mrinal Sen’s movie is a commentary on the state of affairs in Calcutta those times, when communism and its ideals don’t get you a job and money.

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La Strada

Hauntingly beautiful Italian movie “La Strada” (1954) by Frederico Fellini starring Giuletta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Baseheart among others.

Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina) is called upon by her mother saying she has to go on the road with strong man Zampano (Anthony Quinn) to replace her sister Rosa who has died. It is not clear how she died. Zampano gives her mother 10,000 lire to purchase Gelsomina.

Gelsomina is a gullible girl with a beautiful innocent face but she does not know anything – cooking or any of the skills to be with Zampano. He tries to teach her the trombone but fails. Zampano is a grumpy moody cranky guy who does strong man shows on the roads and circuses like breaking a iron chain through use of his muscles and lung power.

Gelsomina runs off to witness a high live wire event of “Il Matto” (the Fool played by Richard Baseheart) who falls for her completely and asks her to leave Zampano. He gives confidence to her and says everything including a stone has a purpose in life.

Il Matto fools around with Zampano which enrages him too much. Zampano stops at a few places and goes off with girls in the area, but hardly ever sleeps or makes love to Gelsomina. They go to a circus to perform there but a brawl ensues between Zampano and Il Matto which results in Zampano in jail for a few days. The circus people exhort Gelsomina to leave the rogue and come with them.

Zampano and Gelsomina stop at a monastery and there Zampano attempts to steal some silver articles from the church. Then they encounter Il matto on the road which again results in a fight between the two resulting in the death of Il Matto. Very tragic ending towards the climax of the movie.

La Strada is all about Gelsomina, her beauty, her innocence, her Chaplinesque style, her emotions. She realises that Zampano is only using her, but her love for Zampano ensures that she does not dump him. La Strada is Fellini’s tribute to Gelsomina as much as Pather Panchali was Satyajit Ray’s tribute to Durga.

Giuletta Masina has enacted one of the most magnificent roles done any any female actor in more than 100 years of world cinema. She is breathtaking in the movie. She has stolen the show in every single frame. We wonder why Gelsomina does not leave the brute for better prospects elsewhere especially when Il Matto had shown her the way. Reason is that she has come to love Zampano for whatever the animal he is and proves in the end by dumping her on a sidewalk with some money and the trombone. In the entire movie, not once does Zampano call her by name.

Both Anthony Quinn and Richard Baseheart have done superb roles but La Strada is all about Giuletta Masina. Haunting music by Nino Rota, brilliant direction by Fellini for which this movie has gobbled up a spate of awards.

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Yaaba

What a beautiful movie from Burkina Faso, Yaaba (1989) directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo tells a beautiful tale of a friendship between two young boys in a village hamlet and an gnarling wizened old woman Sana (Fatimata Sanga) who has been accused of witchcraft by the villagers and stays away from the village. The two boys, both cousins, Bila (Noufou Ouedraogo) and Nopoko (Roukietou Barry) become fond of Sana whom they called as Yaaba in their language. Its a mud thatched village of little means and no medical comforts to talk about, a tough life in a tough environment. The villagers wear torn clothes and have little by way of occupation. There is constant friction in the village and everything is heaped on Sana. When Nopoko gets injured in a scuffle with other young kids of the village there is no health care centre to go to, so the villagers blame Sana for the calamity yet she offers to cure the kid which they initially refuse and then take it. Idrissa has crafted a masterpiece with his brilliant direction and story line. The cinematography by Mathias Kallin is breathtaking. In the sparse surroundings he has created a beauty. I could not understand a word of the dialogues spoken because there were no English sub titles yet the language is so sweet and soft. Normally i don’t watch a movie if there is no English sub titles in it, but something about this movie enraptured me in the first few scenes itself. For true movie connoisseurs this is a beautiful movie.

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Kumbalangi Nights

Kumbalangi Nights, what a powerhouse of a movie, brilliant in all respects. Story of a dysfunctional family of four brothers, practically no gooders living in a shanty like house bordering the rivers with no one responsible for anything and no self respect or self confidence among any of them. There is no woman in the house. Director Madhu Narayanan making his debut here has a good robust script to lean on, to let the plot slowly take its roots. One of the brothers Bobby (Shane Nigam) falls in love with a girl Baby (Anna Ben) from the neighbourhood or rather the other way around to make it plausible. One brother Bonny (Sreenath Bhasi) is a mute one rarely seen in the initial plots. The youngest one Frankie (Mathew Thomas) is the most realistic, naming his house as the worst in the panchayat. He is a football fan and hoping for a scholarship to take him out of there. The eldest one Saji (Soubin Shahir) is supposedly the head of the family, but of no skill whatsoever save for living off his Tamil friend. Baby’s family comprises of her sister and her husband Shammi (Fahadh Faasil) a masochistic kinda guy. The plot starts slowly and then breaks out brilliantly in all directions involving all the brothers and the girl and her family. Everything works nicely in the movie, from a solid script with a suspense towards the end to brilliant cinematography to the acting by practically all the stars in the movie. Very realistic kind of acting, typically seen in malayali characters. Soubin Shahir as the eldest brother is undoubtedly the best performer with his emotions ranging from ludicrousness to helplessness to bravery. In the end there is a challenging statement from the director – whose house is more dysfunctional ?

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Bicycle Thieves

Iconic cult classic “Bicycle Thieves” directed by Vittorio de Sica in 1948, an Italian neorealist film ranked as one of the greatest films of all time. The film derives its strength from its beautiful story told in a simple style. Its a post world war II Italy and work is hard to find. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) gets an employment call to stick posters of an upcoming film, but he must have a bicycle of his own, otherwise he does not get the job. He has pawned his bicycle to meet ends of his family comprising of his wife Maria, son Bruno and a small baby. Maria manages to sell some quilts and get some money to release the bicycle. Antonio is happy with his bicycle and dreams of a big future giving comforts to his family. Unfortunately on the first day of the job itself, some one steals his bicycle and then its a desperate struggle to get it back, because he knows what it means to him and his family. Antonio does not give up the search and enlists the help of his friends to find the bicycle. The police is not of much help and neither he can spot his own bicycle in the second hand bicycle mart. As he gets one rejection after another, Antonio gets frustrated and sometimes angry at his son, for the bad luck that has befallen him. Lamberto has done a brilliant role as the angst ridden Antonio looking for his bicycle. The climax is very poignant. Both Lamberto and Enzo Staoila (Bruno, the boy) were non actors when they played this part. de Sica has used poor neighbourhood to shoot most of his shots and none of his shots were in studio. It was all realist portraying the poverty, grime and unemployment of the city in post war Europe. Many Indian film makers have been influenced by Vittoria de Sica including Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy both of whom showed poverty and angst in their movies. The film won the Golden Globe in 1949 for best foreign language film

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