Friday, November 20, 2009

Three cheers to the old masters

I watched Cries and Whispers more than two years back in the Hyderabad Film Club. Both Bergman and Antonioni had passed away some time back and they were screening Cries and Whispers and Blowup to celebrate both these legends. That was the first Bergman movie that I watched and that was probably during the time that I started watching European and world cinema.

I still remember the experience vividly. I don't remember the plot exactly but I can never forget the emotion that it invoked in me after watching the movie. The movie is about three sisters. Two of the sisters(Karin and Maria) visit their youngest sister(Agnes) in her deathbed. She is being taken care of by a maid(Anna) who stays along with them. The entire movie is a dissection of the human nature with all its beauty and ugliness-- with no complaints. The sisters caring at the beginning later start to wish that this trauma better gets over soon, not because they dont want to see Agnes suffering, but because the trauma and the reunion kindles lots of things that were swept under the carpet. I was unable to appreciate this part of the story fully at that time. I felt how odd women are, they say something else, but think something else. It is always veiled, concealed. But now I know better, or atleast I think I do.

But its the climax that still lingers in my mind. Agnes and her unrequited love towards her sisters wanes away finally as we see her die a painful death.

In the last scenes we see(through Agnes diary) an image of the past, where all the sisters enjoy a bright sunny day laughing and enjoying the company of each other.

Agnes says - “I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much."

We are aware of the mercurial nature of her sisters, but it is the present that counts. It is the now, that should be enjoyed. At that instance, we forget all the ugly wrangles of the sisters that happened for the past 90 minutes and we enjoy that instance of happiness with them. The picture above says it all. Its a moment in cinematic history to be savoured forever.

Absolutely wonderful cinematography for which Sven Nykvist got an Oscar.


I was not familiar with the works of Patricia Highsmith before watching the talented Mr.Ripley by Anthony Minghella. I am trying to get the book for a long time, but in vain. But thats the past. Now I have found an easier way of getting books. Ordering online. Will read it soon.

I happened to stumble on a short story by her during just-another-session-of-clandestine-wikiing during office hours . It's a great read.

The mobile bed-object

You might immediately guess where I got the first line of my first short story inspired from.


The final thing that I am going to write about for today is the movie Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman. This movie is about a screenwriter(Charlie Kaufman himself) with a creator's block while trying to adapt a novel by Susan Orleans for screen.

In the first half of the movie, the protagonist Charlie Kaufman, brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Cage(who got an Oscar Nomination for this role) struggles with adaptation of the book 'Orchid thief'. He is in a mid life crisis. His dumb brother Donald Kaufman writes movies on MPDs and serial killers and it seems to be making big money and gets all the girls. Charlie is confused.

At one crucial instance in the movie, Charlie Kaufman attends a screen writers seminar by Robert Mckee owing to his block and the suggestion made by his brother Donald..

Charlie Kaufman: [voice-over] I am pathetic, I am a loser...
Robert McKee: So what is the substance of writing?
Charlie Kaufman: [voice-over] I have failed, I am panicked. I've sold out, I am worthless, I... What the fuck am I doing here? What the fuck am I doing here? Fuck. It is my weakness, my ultimate lack of conviction that brings me here. Easy answers used to shortcut yourself to success. And here I am because my jump into the abysmal well - isn't that just a risk one takes when attempting something new? I should leave here right now. I'll start over. I need to face this project head on and...
Robert McKee: ...and God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That's flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.

Almost the first half of the movie is full of voice overs. After this particular instance, you don't even here a single voice over(it took me some reading and a second watch to appreciate this). There is an entire change in way the events unfold after that. The story will move from a Charlie Kaufman-sensible-drama-type to DonaldKaufman-car-chase-shoot-them-all type.

This movie is a perfect example as to how great narration can be and how important it is to elevate a simple story to art. This movie is thoroughly enjoyable movie on the first watch and on further watches it becomes more of an intelligent movie than a fun one.

The credits to this movie include Donald Kaufman as one of the screen writers along with Charlie Kaufman. And thus he became the only fictional character ever to be nominated for an Oscar, for Best Adapted screenplay.

Ok so, what is the thing that is common between Patricia Highsmith, Cries and Whispers and Adaptation?

All these had a direct or indirect influence to my first short story Of fond memories and fonder lies.