Movie: Bal-Can-Can (2005)

(Macedonian: Бал-Кан-Кан; Countries: Macedonia, Italy; Languages: Macedonian, Italian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian)

A comedy about a military deserter who escapes his native Macedonia with his family during the fighting between Albanian separatists and government forces in 2001. But this background only provides the point of departure for an extremely funny film.

The story consists of the quest to find the grandmother’s dead body who, when she dies during the journey, is rolled in a carpet, and loaded on the roof of the car to hide from authorities. When the carpet is stolen and along with the body, they find themselves trawling through Balkan’s crime mafias to retrieve her.

I’m hard to laugh watching comedies but this one kept me bemused. It has sharp twists of plot, intelligent dealing of situations, an expressive cast of characters, and it satirizes the conflict very well. I liked it 5/5, for what it is worth.

Fun fact: The film was the highest-grossing film to date in Macedonia (wiki). Here is the IMDb Link for the film.

Movie: Halima’s Path (2012)

(Bosnian: Halimin Put; Country: Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia; Language: Bosnian)

Based on a true story, a grieving Muslim Bosniak woman must track down the biological mother of her adopted son who was butchered by the Serb militia in the war.

When authorities find bones and skeletons of murdered Bosniaks, they call on Halima to give blood sample so her DNA might be matched with that of the heap of bones, but she can’t help as she’s not the biological mother. Then begins the search for the real mother, who has reasons of her own to hide the fact that she’s the mother of Mirza, the murdered lad.

But that’s about the only thing that’s based on true events; the rest of the story is fictionalized for dramatic adaptation.

This is just about all I could say about it without spoiling it for anyone wishing to watch the film.

There’s a bit about a couple wanting to give their son a ‘proper’ Islamic name. That was before the war. So they name him Aaron (Haroon). The boy’s uncle, similarly Muslim, objects to the name and says he’s never heard of it. “I don’t know if this name is from this world let alone a proper Muslim name.” It appears that Bosniaks tend to have their own Bosnian-origin name like Iranians do. Even so, how can a Muslim who has a slightest clue about Islamic tradition couldn’t have heard about Haroon? Musa and Haroon? hello?

The actress who played Halima did well but otherwise the film’s pretty average, on every count: acting, character-building, effects of war and rapine – nothing shines through. I’d rate it 50/50, despite it having got 8.3 out of 10 on IMDb.

Movie: The Hunt (2012)

(Danish: Jagten; Country: Denmark; Language: Danish)

‘It is assumed that children tell the truth but it’s common for children to describe non-existing details’ and ‘to have a vivid imagination.’

A primary school teacher is accused of sexually abusing an innocent child. A mass hysteria ensues. He is ostracized, social-boycotted, spat on, thrown out of shops, abused and, finally, arrested by the police. Lucas’ perfectly normal life becomes topsy-turvy.

What recourse do you have when an angelic child, just to spite her teacher, describes things that can only be interpreted as sexual abuse? None whatsoever; it is as though the accusation proves the guilt.

It’s an excellent critique of  preconceived notions and our attitudes towards some social matters, which, though serious, are guided by irrationality and impulse than by reason and evidence.

I did not know Mads Mikkelsen (of Casino Royale and Clash of the Titans) was a Dane. He played the lead role well.

A recommended watch. My rating 5/5. IMDb Link

Movie: The Raid: Redemption (2011)

(Indonesian: Serbuan Maut; Country: Indonesia; Language: Indonesian)

Director Gareth Evans brings Indonesian martial arts (Pencak silat) to worldwide audience. It is action packed thriller. First class action in an otherwise third class film.

Action pervades, right from the start; so much so that by the time the film ends your cheeks are flushed and your heart’s beating fast.

There is very little towards good story and nothing about characterisation except that every one is a master in martial arts, and they amply display their talents. The movie makers could have just gathered cops and gangsters in one building and, without bothering with anything else, made them fight for the whole one hour forty minutes run time. Oh wait. That just what they did!

A team of elite cops led by a maverick lieutenant raid a decrepit tenement to capture a dangerous gangster chief who runs the place. They have underestimated his designs. Trouble is, the operation is not official and a top cop has ulterior motives for capturing the crime lord.

Five out of five for action and just a single star for the film. IMDb Link

Movie: Life is a Miracle (2004)

(Serbian: Život je čudo, Serbian Cyrillic: Живот је чудо); Country of production: Serbia; Language: Serbian)

I’d heard good word about the director Emir Kusturica, and since this film is set in Bosnia of 1992 during the war, I watched it.

It is a light comedy not a serious drama film. A budding footballer is called to serve in the Serb forces when the war begins just as he received a letter inviting him to join a prestigious football club. He is taken as a war prisoner. His mentally unstable mother goes with some random Hungarian she meets at a party and his father is left alone in the little house in the picturesque village.

And so it happens that a Muslim girl is taken captive and a military friend of the Serb family circumvents the protocol and brings the girl to the father so that he could use her in exchange for his captive son. But life has different designs. There begins a silly and funny series of incidents better viewed and no described, to keep spoilers at bay.

I did not like the film as much as I thought I would. The story is a drag and the content does not justify the two-and-a-half-hour run time. It could have been wrapped up within the standard one-and-a-half hour time frame.

For the film 2.5/5, but for the lead actress, Nataša Tapušković, who plays the captive Muslim girl–>

IMDb Link

 

Movie: Ajami (2009)

(Arabic: عجمي, Hebrew עג’מי); Country: Israel; Languages: Arabic, Hebrew)

This is the first Israeli film I have ever watched. The story focuses on the Palestinians living in Israel, or “Israeli Arabs” as they are called, and takes place in the Ajami neighbourhood of the city of Jaffa.

It’s not a single coherent story but based on five interconnecting and overlapping storylines of the five protagonists, four of them Arabs and one an Israeli soldier.

It’s largely about intra-Arab gang warfare, their poverty which leads them to illegal drug selling, and about the problems the Arabs face in their social lives.

A few troubled Arab youth independently gather to work at a restaurant owned by a Christian Arab in Jaffa, who is active in the Arab community and helps his fellow Arabs regardless of religion with their problems whenever he can. It is from there the troubled protagonists secretly embark on their quick money-making schemes, all of which come to naught.

I personally found the characterisation of Arabs a bit troubling. The emphasis is on intra-Arab gang warfare and the culture of honour and blood revenge, their failure to unite in their opposition to the life of ignominy and oppression they are forced to live, and their continual non-acceptance of the state of Israel even though some Arabs are citizens of Israel and carry its passport. But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. It might well be a true depiction of the lives of Arabs living in those lands.

There are two directors of this film. One is a Jewish Israeli and the other is a Christian Arab from Jaffa (Scandar Copti). There was a controversy after the film was nominated for Oscar.

Movie: Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

(Japanese: 硫黄島からの手紙); Country: United States; Language: Japanese)

Told through the perspective of Japanese army conscripts, the film portrays the historical account of the WWII battle between Japan and the United States at the island of Iwo Jima.

The Japanese defeat was written on the wall before the battle started; most of Japan’s defences were already destroyed in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and therefore no reinforcement could arrive from mainland. Their military commanders at Iwo Jima did not know this when the battle started on the island but fought very bravely with whatever they had at hand.

The Americans planned to take the island in 5 days but it took them 37 days to declare victory.

The story begins when an unposted letter of Private First Class Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to his wife is found during the digging of a war era trench detailing the hardships of soldiers at the remote and barren Iwo Jima. The movie then moves through the point of view of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) who leads Japanese forces in the battle.

The General had spent time in the United States on a military exchange programme many years earlier and his conviction at that time that Japan and United States could never go to war is told in flashbacks. He is shown to be frustrated and disappointed at having to fight this war. Despite his skepticism, which might or might not be historically accurate, the general led his forces from the front and died in action.

The usual portrayal of ruthless, racist, terrible Imperial Japanese escapes this movie; the focus is on the struggle of the Japanese contingent stationed to defend Iwo Jima and their efforts for survival once the American air raids begin, and their resolve to see it to the end despite the knowledge that no help was coming from Tokyo.

I’d rate it 4/5. IMDb Link

Movie: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

(Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos); Country: Argentina; Language: Spanish)

The story revolves around a legal counselor (Ricardo Darín as Benjamin Esposito) and his aide who try to catch the culprit after the rape and murder of a beautiful Buenos Aires girl.

The murderer turns out to be on the payroll of the state agencies as an informer and therefore protected from the criminal proceedings. This does not sit well with Counselor Esposito who disregards official orders and goes after the murderer. His friend and colleague is killed as hired assassins are sent to get rid of him. He leaves the city and lives his life in another town for the next twenty five years.

The film starts with Counselor Esposito trying to write a novel about the said case now that he is retired, divorced and lonely, and has nothing important to do. His boss (Soledad Villamil as Irene Hastings) for whom he nurtured tender feelings during the time they spent together on the case helps him with tips and insights to write the novel.

It is exactly during the writing of the novel that the Counselor Esposito actually finds out what happened with the murderer, after twenty five years of the closing of the case.

An engaging script with good dialogues and occasional humour, the film is worth watching but don’t expect too much. My rating 3/5. Here is the IMDb Link.

Documentary: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003)

(Country: Ireland; Languages: English; Spanish)

This documentary film chronicles the events leading to and surrounding the coup that briefly ousted late Hugo Chavez from power in 2002. It is based on the filming of Irish journalists who were  present in Caracas at the time of the coup which gives this film a very real feel. It also shows footage from besieged presidential palace right after the coup was declared.

The military-media nexus led the coup and employed criminal means to reach their end. They urged anti-Chavez folks to go out and march to the palace to demand his resignation. The procession was shot at and people were killed. It was later proved that military snipers were behind it and blamed it on Chavez.

The highlight of the film was also a funny twist of irony. The douche who was chosen by the military junta to head the country declared the coup a “victory of democracy” and praised the democratic choice of people in putting him into power!

Apart from a few media bigwigs and top generals, everyone stood besides Chavez. The lower ranking military officers refused to follow orders. The generals and other important coup leaders in turn were ousted out of the presidential palace and Chavez was brought back. It was a complete and total victory of the people who supported a popular leader.

Rated 5/5.

Movie: Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

(Country: India; Language: Hindi)

You are reading about a long and sordid tale of fight for supremacy and honour turned into one of the epic gangster movies ever. The place is Wasseypur in the Indian state of Bihar (now Jharkhand). Two Muslim criminal gangster families of Bihar have been fighting a war of the survival of the fittest that spans three generations over six decades.

It starts from 1940s with the story of the origins of the dispute that reached its crescendo during 1990s and culminated in 2000s when most able men from both families were killed by either side and there’s no one left anymore to fight. Slap for slap, bullet for bullet, humiliation for humiliation, rape for rape, and murder for murder…they do not stop come what may. You know something is really messed up when a gangster kills a political head honcho for killing his grandfather five decades ago.

It’s divided into two parts like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Both parts are completely interconnected and heavily depend on each other. My criticism is restricted to its run time (319 minutes or 5.3 hours) and documentary-like running commentary done from the perspective of the character of Nasir (Piyush Mishra) who is mentor to Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai). Granted that the film tries to tell the whole story spanning six decades but I still think they packed too much information for a movie. It becomes tedious to keep up with all the hard info coming in in quick successions.

To call the sound track brilliant would be an understatement. It’s heavily derived from folk and falls right in place with the film’s five senses. “Tere qehqay loon ga”, “Ik bagal” and “taar bijli” served to lighten the mood of otherwise grisly film.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Faisal Khan was impressive with this impeccable improvisation. It was a tough role to play but he did justice with the role he was entrusted to.

It was debut film for Huma Qureshi (not related to the gangster Qureshi family). Full marks for spontaneous dialogue delivery and raw beauty of her character ❤

I’d rate the film 4/5.  Cut the run time and cut down on running commentary and get a straight 5/5.

PS: For those who are still wondering, let me tell you it’s not some melodramatic, romantico-sentimental, typical Bollywood crap; it’s actually an art movie. IMDb Link