Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nueve reinas

Think Hollywood is the place where caper movies come alive? Far from it – especially if you're looking for a smart caper movie... Okay, I'll grant you this; I haven't heard of a lot of foreign or independent filmmakers doing an exceptional job at a caper flick...

All the more reason why 'Nueve reinas' (Nine Queens) stands out...

Promotional artwork (English) for Nueve reinas

Oh and if the plot seems a tad familiar to you... remember this... 'Bluffmaster' came out in 2005... Nueve reinas was released in 2000!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

‘Cherry’ gives a taste of what simple, beautiful cinema is like

Al just reviewed "Gabbeh" from notable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. I’m following up the Iranian cinema discussion by looking at another remarkable film “Taste of Cherry” by Abbas Kiarostami. This review was published in Evening Weekly but since it’s very much Baiskoaf material why not put it here as well.

Mr. Badii has a plan. A dangerous plan. A plan that would strike anyone as shocking.

He drives around the outskirts of Tehran to find someone to bury him the next morning after he commits suicide. Knowing how reluctant one would be to fulfill his request he has money to offer.

The question now is simple: Will he kill himself in the end?

That was all I knew about Taste of Cherry when I first heard of it. It fascinated me. It sounded like something I had not heard before. And it turned out to be unlike anything I had seen before.

Coming out of the new Iranian cinema, and from one of its pioneers Abbas Kiarostami it made perfect sense the film landed joint top prize in 1997 at Cannes, the most prestigious international film festival.

The film’s protagonist Badii, a middle-aged Iranian man, drives through the streets and witnesses unemployed people. He gets to the outskirts where he meets three potential “candidates”, different in age and status but similar in their response to his request: unwilling.

He first offers a ride to a young recruit walking to the camp. The kid’s initial suspicion about Badii attempting a homosexual pick up translates into horror when Badii finally spills his quest.

He then approaches a seminarian who tries to convince him to reconsider the decision and appreciate life on religious grounds.

Finally he encounters an old taxidermist who himself had retracted suicidal tendencies after beginning to admire the little pleasures of life.

This does not give away anything though. In fact it is just the gist of this haunting meditation on life.

Cherry does not provide any explanation to why he wants to end it all. It avoids being preachy and pretentious. In other words Badii does not look high at the sky, lift his arms and lash out his life’s miseries. That would definitely defeat the whole purpose of the film.

His expression-less face alone says it. He is lifeless and alienated from the world. He does not say much and listens to what others have to say about his fate. The irony here is the main character remains vague and the supporting characters are fleshed out. Kiarostami gets away with it because that I believe is why the film works so well.

Although everyone Badii meets react to his situation with disagreement they approach the matter differently. The dialogues that take place between them are eloquent and understated. The final conversation, or the taxidermist’s monologue rather, is particularly charming. He shares his own attempt at suicide and that the taste of cherry revived his faith in life. Listening to his experience itself is an inspirational moment in a film which basically questions the human existence.

Famous film critic Leonard Maltin points out Taste of Cherry is “A contemplation of humanity quite unlike any other captured on film.”

Humanity and simplicity are indeed the trademarks of Iranian cinema. Only a filmmaker like Majid Majidi could pull off a film worthy of international acclaim out of a story as straightforward as two kids coping with the loss of a pair of shoes (Children of Heaven), while Mohsen Makhmalbaf proves special effects and big budgets are needless to make a visually stunning film (Gabbeh).

Hence, Iranian cinema is testimony to cinema’s infinite possibilities. Given the limited resources available and the existing political suppression, the country yet brings out some of the most realistic and thought-provoking films in world cinema.

Taste of Cherry is indeed thought-provoking. Bittersweet and lyrical, it will stay with you for a long time.

It is the sort of film that inspires budding filmmakers: primarily three conversations with three different perspectives thrown in, a minimal plotline with a challenging theme, and a shoestring budget production with non-professional actors.

I really hope it gets seen and, hopefully, be appreciated by as many cinema-lovers as possible.

By Shaari

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The colours of cinema

A gabbeh is a Persian carpet woven in exquisite colours and designs that tell a story. In the film of the same name by Iran’s premiere auteur Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the carpet becomes a central metaphor not only for depicting the harsh but picturesque life lead by hardy Iranian nomads but, indeed, cinema itself. As wisps of their lives are etched lovingly onto the gabbeh, so unfolds a lyrical saga of extraordinary beauty and depth.

A young woman, also called Gabbeh, longs to unite with a mysterious horseman, a stranger who follows her clan in the distance and howls in the full moon. But Gabbeh’s authoritarian father tells her that she cannot marry until her ageing uncle, a teacher and a poet, ties the knot first. This is not a condition to be taken lightly, since he has a very specific mate in mind: one who can sing like a canary. In the event, the lovable bachelor does find an exact match, but daily strife continues to delay Gabbeh’s own marriage. Her mother gives birth, her sister dies, and a baby goat is born to their livestock. In the end, the young woman and her horseman can’t wait any longer; they elope, with Gabbeh’s father following the rebellious couple with a gun.

This tale of forbidden love takes shape through a series of unforgettable images. Against the backdrop of stark landscapes, women and children go about their daily lives in intricately embroidered costumes, as they dye the wool for their carpets from the rich hues of wild exotic flowers and tall grasses. The long focus cinematography captures every detail as these nomads camp out in lush valleys, cross muddy, overflowing rivers, and trek through the barren snowfields of southeastern Iran.

As with other notable Iranian films of the 1990s, especially the works of Abbas Kiorastami, Gabbeh plays with the categories of documentary and fiction. While the elaborate composition of Makhmalbaf’s cinematography evokes painterly traditions, the use of mainly non-actors in the film recalls Italian neo-realism. In fact the director began Gabbeh as a documentary on carpet makers but, along the way, apparently changed his mind. What we are left with is a rich tapestry of realism, fiction and fantasy, and what are surely some of the most endearing images in the history of cinema since the invention of colour filmstock.

Iranian cinema has captured the hearts of film theorists and art film festivals throughout the world. One of the reasons for this might be the rejection by Iranian filmmakers of the Bollywood model to develop, instead, a unique cultural aesthetic, something directors in South Asia, including the Maldives, seem unwilling to try. Indeed, I’ve heard an influential film “expert” in this country openly declaring Iranian cinema as “meaningless”. I also understand another film “consultant” rubbished Iranian films in front of a group of young Maldivian film novices. Prevailing film sensibilities in this country, then, seem to discourage people from enjoying alternative cinemas developed by artists of exceptional vision.

I first saw Gabbeh in a cold, grubby film theatre in 1996. It was the second Iranian film I had seen and I came out of the building, with a small group of film-lovers, in a state of exhilaration. Gabbeh was proof that art cinema was very much alive, and that films could touch us at an aethetic, intellectual and human level.

In one of the scenes from the film, a characters shouts: “Life is colour!” With a seemingly simple but deft stroke of artistic genius, Makhmalbaf appears to have captured that colour in Gabbeh, which to me is the equivalent of a live painting, a passionate love song to cinema itself.
Note: More on the works of Makhmalbaf and his family of filmmakers on:
By Al

Monday, September 3, 2007

“Lost” season 2 – an allegory to current human conditions

Have you read about the story where someone spent the whole of his/her life in a cave but did not even have a clue that the outside was more beautiful because he/she was afraid of venturing out into the unknown?
Lost season 2 is something like that. If you don’t want spoilers ahead, then don’t read after this line though I am not going into specific details. I would just like to raise two key allegorical points which captured my interest:
1) The fact that we humans will continue to do something for how long it takes as far as we have a notion or belief that we have to do that thing for our survival, even though there is no evidence or proof to support that notion. This factor is reflected in the button-pushing in the hatch.

2) The fact that a human being who has been subject to suffering all his life and grows old this way will have no human sympathy or empathy for the younger protégés and will not stop at making your protégé suffer the same just because you grew old suffering that way and you feel that anybody else do not deserve to live happily when you had wasted your own life. This factor emerges when the guy is kept in the dark and goes on pushing the button for three years, at the end of which the elder guy plans to leave the younger guy behind even though he will be left pushing the button forever.
I think this particular mentality is very much evident in our parents’ and grandparents’ generation.
One of my friends told me that during the heyday in the hippy 1970s his mother wore short skirts that would have put the Pussycat Dolls to shame and used to hang out at the “Ice ge” (our local pub and disco in Male’ at the time of former President Ibrahim Nasir’s liberal and secular era, damn Gayoom), but that she has now worn the buruga and joined the Adaalath Party and now doesn’t want him to have fun.
He says that though he is 18 years of age, his parents have refused to give him a private room in his home because his parents feel that they will go to hell if he has sex outside marriage because they provided him the opportunity (the room) to commit extra-marital sex in the first place!
How hypocritical can that be. After enjoying all the pleasures they could, his parents do not want him to enjoy the same. It’s like how most extremists’ minds work: if you are miserable, then all others must remain miserable, too.
Some of my friends say that “Lost” season 1 is better because the “picking up the pieces” and “coping with the situation” was more interesting than season 2 which concentrates on the mysteries surrounding all aspects of life on the island.
I can see their point. I am not sure which season is my favorite but am very much looking forward to season 3 but Hursheed has already warned me there’s a dragging love story part in the middle of season 3 before the pace picks up again towards the end.

- Hilath

“Surf’s up” stays true to surf culture and spirit

Another animated film involving penguins? Yes, at first, I also thought of skipping this film. And the fact that Surf's Up was about surfing did not initially grab my interest because penguins seemed to be so exhaustively used by recent films such as March of the Penguins and Happy Feet (both of which I haven't seen yet). However, right from the start, it was obvious that real life surfers were behind this effort. This includes six-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater and Rob Machado providing voice overs for some of the characters. Though the plot is formulaic (little guy takes on the arrogant champ), the film was engaging for me as a surfer because the film very much reflects the spirit and culture among the surfing community, and the filmmakers even poke fun at themselves and their “dumb culture.” I wouldn’t mind watching the film again as it was funny and humorous throughout.
- Hilath

"Disturbia": engaging premise but…

Like Jeepers Creepers, Disturbia has an engaging beginning, with skillful direction, to create a most suspenseful atmosphere. However, what begins as a dissection of human psychology, soon becomes yet just another formulaic horror film.

- Hilath

Sunday, September 2, 2007

If you make it, will they come?

I had a heated discussion with a close friend of mine (Ya) a few nights ago... the point of contention was "If you make a genre breaking Maldivian (Dhivehi) Film, would you be able to make a profit - even break even?".

My response was a resounding 'NO'.

Ya had a different opinion though.

According to Ya, IF the film had a decent story, decent acting and was put together by (even) a half decent director, then it would gain an audience and could even stand the chance to become a 'blockbuster'... a runaway hit! This could be done with just ONE such film Ya argued.

Wouldn't that be something?

Are we ever likely to see a (figurative) Maldivian 'Trainspotting'? If so, would it be popular? A Box Office hit?

I disagreed with Ya - I think that, while current films are popular-ish (arguably), if you break the mold, then you're making a film for a different audience altogether.

THAT audience has been let down SO many times - it'll take much more than one decent film to get them back in theaters... it's going to take a lot more more-than-decent, alternate genre films with consistently improving quality, AND a conducive/comfortable/high-quality environment to enjoy the said films in, to build their faith and bring then (back?!?!?) in to cinemas.

That's my opinion...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bed wetting music: are we afraid of our soft side?

A friend once told me that he came across a review which said that Coldplay’s music was “music for bed wetters.”

I told this to another friend and his interpretation was this: “Coldplay seems to be afraid to go to the dark side. And since bed wetters are children and people who are afraid of the dark, I guess that’s what’s the reviewer meant. In fact, I also think Coldplay’s music is bed wetting music.”

Another friend then commented that like Coldplay, Hindi music is also bed wetting music.

“Hindi music is soft and sentimental. Not at all like Cradle of Filth and Slipknot,” he said.

I don’t know why but I keep wondering whether these people are too afraid of their soft side! They want to be or at least appear to be tough!

I think what’s tougher and braver is actually accepting and coming to terms with your soft side.

I love Coldplay because their music is melancholic. And like Slipknot and Cradle of Filth, I believe Coldplay is equally talented too though they choose not to indulge in metal because I guess it is only through melancholic music that the feeling of songs like “Speed of Sound” and “Hardest Part” can be conveyed.

- Hilath

Lauding "The Old Man and the Sea"

The old man and the marlin

Courtesy of my associate I.Y. (who some refer to as ‘the devil’, which I believe he doesn’t really mind) I finally watched Russian master animator Aleksandr Petrov’s oscar-winning animated short The Old Man and the Sea. I was mighty impressed. This 20-minute short, which also won a host of other animation awards, is a remarkable blend of style and substance.

Based on Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella it was the first animated film to burst into Imax screens and suffice it to say it was a pity I had to watch it on my pc. Nonetheless it was an awe-inspiring experience.

The Old Man and the Sea was launched as part of a tribute to Hemingway who we all know is one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century.

The film is a simple, moving tale of an aging fisherman who is past his proud, adventurous life. He is now a victim of ill fortune and comes back home from the sea empty-handed. He feels he should hang up his fishing rod whilst seeking solace in the company of a little boy who encourages him to keep going.

One day he sails out into the sea with renewed determination to turn around his luck, resulting in a battle reminiscent of the defining moments in his life.

Petrov's ordeal

A comment on this film will be unjust without admiring the painstaking effort Petrov made to create it. It took more than two years for him to complete it. Why? 29,000 frames with his own hands! He made every frame using slow-drying oil paints on glass sheets. He altered the oils between frames with his fingers, photographed the outcomes, and moulded the oils for the next frame and so forth.

In explaining why he used his fingers to paint instead of brushes he said it was the “closest way from the heart to the cartoon."

To add insult to injury, though he normally works on an A4 sized canvass the size had to be enlarged four times for Imax!

In the end it was worth the wait and effort. It is a product of beauty and depth. It possesses a dream-like quality unseen in today’s 3-D animation and the non-refined look of the animation with stutters in movement creates a gritty, dramatic effect.

Ofcourse one would invest such energy into a production only with high passion for the material. Petrov read the book as a child and it left a strong imprint on him. He wrote the script years ago and after much struggle for funding Imax took it up.

He said he drew inspiration from the old man’s character: "The story is special to me as is the inspiring central character. His struggle resembles the struggle, the patience and determination needed as an animator. You have to love what you do."


To sum up, The Old Man takes on universal themes of courage, defiance in the face of adversity, and self-identity in refreshing fashion.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Music vs. Film: How Bollywood can never match the poetry of Indian music

Some months back, at Juwey’s Café in Male’, Narco and I were having a conversation. We were reminiscing the days when Hindi music was original. That is when Hindi music used its local and traditional and original instruments like sitar. For me, Hindi music died after “1942: A Love Story”. Yash Chopra’s efforts at reviving it with Madan Mohan’s music in “Veer-Zara” wasn’t a too successful attempt in my view.

Though I loved the music of “Fanaa”, for me, the Hindi music era was pre-“1942: A Love Story.” Now mostly Western instruments are used. And as a family member once commented to me, the use of Western instruments have resulted in the loss of the rustic and sentimental mood of Hindi music, which actually defines it (I listen to heavy metal too but that’s no excuse to ignore the creativity of other cultures as some of my friends seem to do by making racist comments about Hindi music).

I long for the days when I could hear songs like “Ek Rasta Hai Zindagi” from “Kala Pattar” or “Tere Chehre Se” from “Kabhi Kabhie”.

The only person who has been able to still preserve the Hindi feel of Hindi music with Western instruments is, ironically, Mahesh Bhatt and co. Though I hate his plagiarizing of Hollywood films, I cannot help but like the music of Bhatt productions such as “Jaanam” (“Dil Kyon Dadak Ta Hai”, “Mera Dil Ka Pathaa” etc) and “Paap” (“Lagan Lagi Tumse”, etc).

The conversation with Narco centered around the fact that while Hindi music composers were great masters, their counterpart filmmakers don’t have a clue about the art of filmmaking. In fact, Bollywood, like our local Muhamma Kalo, are abusers of the art form we call film, “filmmakers” who want to squeeze every dime out of our pockets with their sorry productions.

I told Narco that while I like listening to Hindi music, the videos and the films’ songs that go with it, don’t go with it at all. I think the problem is that Bollywood filmmakers don’t have a clue about film as an art form. Even Sri Lanka, which has a mostly video industry that is even poor compared to our Dhivehi video industry which consists mostly of plagiarized Hindi productions, won a prestigious Cannes award a few years back.

If anybody disagrees with me, consider this: Bollywood churns out more than 800 films a year, and hardly any of it makes it to an international film festival, save “Lagaan” and “Monsoon Wedding” quite recently. As Al pointed out, you can’t say that films like “Water” and “Bend it Like Beckham” are Bollywood productions because they were made by filmmakers who were raised in other countries. That will be like claiming that films like “The Sixth Sense” by M. Night Shyamalan, who grew up in Philadelphia, are Bollywood films!

But countries like Iran, where filmmakers have to struggle in order to produce less than 20 films a year, almost all the films make it to international film festivals, and even are quite popular and commercially successful. In fact, films like Iran’s “Children of Heaven” is still counted by many of my film-loving friends as one of their top ten favorite films of all time. Bollywood’s much hyped directors like Farhan Akhtar (whose credits include “Dil Chahta Hai,” “Lakshya” and “Don”) should get the message that it is the message of humanity which resonates with audiences and have made Iranian films both popular, commercially successful and at the same time art films. Iranian directors have got it right because they always explore in their films what it means to be human.

Before concluding this post, I would appreciate if anyone can facilitate for me to have access to or get the following songs which I have been desperate to get for several years:

- All the songs of the film “Prem Rog” which stars Rishi Kapoor and Padmini as the unfortunate widow. I especially want the songs “Mohabbat He Kya Cheez,” and that song about the bees which I forgot but you see Rishi running after a white-clad Padmini in it.

- “Mere Liye Zindagi” from the film “Mera Jawab” which I think was Meenakshi and Jackie Shroff’s first film

- “Aathey Mujhe Thu Rulaa Gaee”. I forgot the name of the film but this song stars Sunjay Dutt and Anita Raj (I liked her then and wonder where she is now. She had a nice and modern looking hairstyle even then).

- “Mohabbat Karne Vaalonko Baharo Thum Dhua-eyn Dhoa” from the film “Lovers” starring Kumar Gaurav and Padmini. This film is quite interesting to analyze. It came out in the early 1980s and was directed by Gaurav’s late father Rajendra Kumar. In it, Padmini is a Christian girl who takes singing lessons from a Hindu woman. She falls in love with her teacher’s Hindu son, played by Gaurav. In the climax of the film, both Padmini and Gaurav give up their respective religions so that they could be together. How wonderful. As I’ve always believed, natural feelings like love cannot be overwhelmed with things as fake as religion. One of my family members, who is now quite religious, at that time said that he liked it because he thought it was a very progressive film even at that time. Predictably, it was a flop in Indian box office. There is another lovely song in that film which starts like “Aa Mulagaathoan Ka Mausam Aa Gayaa.”

- Naziya Hassan’s original “Boom” album. Almost all the songs made it to the film “Star” starring once again Gaurav and Padmini and directed by our good Rajendra in the early 1980s.

- All the songs from “Qurbani” starring Zeenat Aman, Vinod Kumar and Feroz Khan.


- Hilath

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


On the 30th of July 2007, we lost two legends of cinema; Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. In a mere 24 hours the world of cinema was dealt a blow of immeasurable loss – and a lot of us here, in the Maldives, didn’t even notice. A lot more, still, hadn’t seen a single frame of film by either of the two remarkable filmmakers.


Those of us who did notice felt that it was time we, as film enthusiasts, did something other than just sit around and discuss our thoughts on great filmmakers. Not to drive home the loss – but to showcase what these maestros, and other such greats, have given us.


We made a few calls and, on the 18th of August 2007 (having already, mostly, cast our votes), took to a coffee and discussed, for a little over two hours, what we could do – interspersed were discussions on our favourite films, filmmakers, etc – but we did manage to come up with one solid, coherent thought… or two.

Cinema Paradisio and Il Postiono, which is better? Does it matter?

Yes, Il Postino is better than Cinema Paradisoarguably. AND Baiskoaf is a way of taking our ‘coffee conversations’ to a more public, wider setting, thus, allowing us to share our passion and enthusiasm with a group larger than just the *cough* of us – and hopefully change our mindset on cinema from passive entertainment to something that is engaging, captivating and intelligent.

So we begin...