Archive for the ‘Film Review’ Category

I finally got around to watching the film adaptation of Kalki’s classic historical novel, ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ (‘Ponni’s Son’). I wanted to watch it in the theatre, but being the couch potato I am, I just sat on it, and when it came out on Amazon Prime, I watched it in the last couple of days.

What is the story about? Well, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has a long, epic, rambling plot. I’ll just repeat here, what I wrote in my review of the first part of the book, last year. You can find the whole review here. ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is a historical novel set at around 970 C.E. It is about the Chola king and queens and princes and princesses and their friends and enemies. It has everything that one would expect in a historical novel – many characters, intricate plot, conspiracies, palace intrigues, romance, war, amazing adventures, secrets from the past, charming characters, spies, badass villains, many surprising revelations. The influence of Alexandre Dumas is deeply felt in Kalki’s book – there is a young man, Vandhiyadevan, who looks like D’Artagnan, there is a beautiful woman, Nandini, who looks like Milady de Winter, and there is even a minister like Cardinal Richelieu. Of course, the actual plot and characters are different and fascinating in their own way.

So, what do I think about the film adaptation? I think that the film is well made. The settings look natural and real and it brings the Tamil period of a thousand years back, vividly alive. The songs all sound natural and feel part of the story, and they don’t feel forcibly tucked in. The acting by all the actors and actresses feels quite natural and they represent the characters very well. The cinematography is excellent. The last scene with the ship stuck in the storm is amazing and realistic and beautifully made. I haven’t seen something like this in a Tamil movie ever. Mani Ratnam has definitely broken new ground here.

Now something on the cast and the characters.

From left to right : Vandhiyathevan, Kundavai, Aditha Karikalan, Nandini, Arulmozhi Varman

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini was perfect! I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. I think Ramya Krishnan in her prime would have been perfect in that role, but outside of her, I don’t see anyone else as good. I think this might be Aishwarya Rai’s finest role ever. Glad to know that Mani Ratnam and Aishwarya Rai got that right.

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Nandini as depicted in the book

Trisha as Princess Kundavai was very good. Not like the Kundavai from the book, but still very good.

Trisha as Kundavai
Kundavai and Vandhiyathevan as depicted in the book

Kundavai’s best friend, Vanathi, is very different in the movie compared to the book. In the book, Vanathi is a shy, introverted character, who is in love with the prince, but in the movie, Vanathi is a cool, stylish, mischievous, extroverted character. Very different! But still, the movie Vanathi is good, and Sobhita Dhulipala depicts her very well.

Sobhita Dhulipala as Vanathi
Vanathi and Kundavai as depicted in the book

The boatwoman Poonguzhali in the book is a quiet, introspective, melancholic character, but the movie Poonguzhali is different. She is definitely not melancholic. But the character of Poonguzhali in the movie is very well depicted and Aishwarya Lekshmi plays that character very well. I liked the bantering she does with Vandhiyathevan.

Aishwarya Lekshmi as Poonguzhali
Poonguzhali as depicted in the book

There are too many characters in the story to talk about in detail, but I’ll just talk about two more. Karthi as Vandhiyathevan is very good. He shows style, humour, flirts with women. But he is not the Vandhiyathevan that I imagined. The Vandhiyathevan of the book is a legendary figure, and he is probably the greatest character that Kalki ever created. It is hard to get him perfect on the screen. I think MGR in his prime would have been a great Vandhiyathevan. He would have been perfect. Maybe Kamalahasan in his prime. Maybe Parthiban in his prime. I can’t see anyone else playing that role. But these actors are older now or they are not around. So the director has done the best he could. Karthi has done pretty well.

Karthi as Vandhiyathevan

I never thought that Jeyam Ravi would be Arulmozhi Varman. I always saw him as an angry young man. Arulmozhi from the book is a prince who never gets angry, who loves peace, and everyone loves him. But Jeyam Ravi does his best to depict this Chola prince, and one can’t fault him for that.

There is one thing though, that I’d like to nitpick. The screenplay. The story as depicted in the movie is an open book. We know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what is exactly happening. There are no surprises. That is not at all how the book is. The book is filled with surprises and that is one of the pleasures of reading it. The movie reveals everything upfront. For example, in the first scene in the movie, the crown prince Aditha Karikalan calls Vandhiyathevan and tells him that he has to go on a mission and gives him all the details. This is not how the book starts. In the book, Vandhiyathevan is riding his horse near the lake during festival time. We don’t know why he is there. Lots of surprising things happen after that, and the truth is slowly revealed. Even when things are revealed, we have a suspicion that there is still more to it. This is how Kalki keeps the reader riveted to the book. But in the movie, there are no surprises. If I have to give an analogy, in the first Harry Potter book, we see Harry living in his uncle’s and aunt’s place, being treated badly. Then one day, suddenly, a giant man arrives, and frees him from there and takes him to a strange place. This is how the book starts. This beginning of the book has got a lot of unexpected surprises that we don’t see coming. If the movie version of the book didn’t start with this, but started with a conversation between Dumbledore and Hagrid, with Dumbledore asking Hagrid to bring Harry to Hogwarts, then there are no surprises. The pleasure of the surprise is lost. This is what I saw in the Ponniyin Selvan film adaptation.

I can understand why the director and screenplay writers made this significant change. A movie filled with surprises at every turn and in which we are not sure about the intentions of the main characters, is pleasurable to watch. But in the past, when Tamil filmmakers experimented a little like this, they were taking a big risk, and the movie bombed at the box office. It is a surprising thing, because the same audience watches English movies and French movies and are able to enjoy the mysteries, and the twists and turns, and the subtext. But when they come in a Tamil movie, they reject it. It is one of the mysteries of the Tamil movie audience which is difficult to fathom. So with a big budget movie like this, I can understand why the director didn’t want to take any risks and revealed everything upfront. For movie goers who’ll never read the book (most won’t because the book is more than 1500 pages long), this change in the screenplay won’t have any impact, because the movie is excellent. But for fans of the book, this is a significant change, which makes the story as told in the book, much better and more pleasurable than the movie.

I enjoyed watching the film adaptation of ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘. Can’t wait for the second part! Now I have to go and dust the copy of the book I have (I have atleast 4 editions I think) and read it from the beginning before the next part of the movie comes out.

I also hope that this is the start of an era when more Tamil historical novels will be adapted into movies. Kalki’sSivakamiyin Sabatham‘ (‘Sivakami’s Oath’) deserves to be adapted into a movie. So does Sandilyan’sMannan Magal‘ (‘The King’s Daughter‘) and Akilan’sVengayin Mainthan‘ (‘The Tiger’s Son‘). There are more, there are lots. Tamil historical fiction is a field which is rich and which is a gift that never stops giving.

Have you watched ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘? What do you think about it?


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I have wanted to watch the film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘The Painted Veil‘ ever since it came out. (My review of the novel is here.) Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite writers and I am a huge fan of his books. I have never seen a film adaptation of any of his books. I was surprised that someone decided to make a film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘, because Maugham has long been out of favour among readers and critics and only some of us, old fans, continue to read him. Fortunately for me, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton and their fellow producers did not think so and we have this beautiful film adaptation as a result.

The story told in the movie goes like this. Kitty is a young woman in London who attends parties. Her parents are worried that she is not getting married and settling down. When a young doctor, Walter, who is on holiday from Shanghai, meets her at one of these parties, he falls in love with her and proposes to her. Kitty is hesitant, but when she remembers that her parents want her out of the way, she accepts Walter’s proposal. They get married and Walter takes Kitty with him to Shanghai. Kitty is initially bored with her life there. Walter is not really a fun person – he is a nerdy scientist. But once Walter takes her to a Chinese opera and Kitty meets Charles, the Vice Consul there. Kitty finds him charming and before long they are having an affair. At some point, Walter discovers their affair. He decides to do something unconventional, something painful. He decides to take up a posting in interior China, where there is a cholera outbreak. When Kitty refuses to accompany him, he says that he will file for divorce and name Charles as her lover in the divorce application. After some heated conversation and discussion, Walter agrees to this – if Charles agrees to divorce his wife and marry Kitty, then Walter and Kitty can divorce amicably and go their own ways. Otherwise, Walter will go ahead with his plan of going to interior China and he hopes that Kitty will accompany him. Kitty is under the impression that this will work, because Charles loves her. But Charles turns out to be weak and a fake and doesn’t agree to this proposal. Now Kitty is caught between the devil and the deep sea – Charles has abandoned her and Walter is punishing her. She opts for the punishment, eventhough it makes her very unhappy, and goes with Walter to the place deep inside China.

What happens to Kitty when she reaches the small town in interior China? Can a city girl like her survive there? What happens to her relationship with Walter? And what happens in that small town because of the epidemic? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. Naomi Watts is brilliant as Kitty – I think there couldn’t have been a better person to play that role in all its complexity. Watts dazzles in every scene throughout the movie. I was a little worried about Edward Norton playing the role of Walter, but he does it wonderfully. Liev Schreiber is the handsome Charles, Kitty’s lover. I was also very excited to see Diana Rigg – who played one of the finest Bond heroines in the film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘, and who in recent times is famous for playing the cool and stylish Lady Olenna Tyrell in ‘Game of Thrones‘ – as Mother Superior who runs an orphanage with French nuns. She is wonderful. Toby Jones as Waddington and Anthony Wong as Colonel Yu are wonderful too.

How does the film compare to the book? It is hard for me to say. One of my friends used to say this about book-to-film adaptations – that if a film manages to translate the soul of the book onto the screen, it has done well. I think this film has done that – translated the soul of the book perfectly to the screen. The film takes some liberties with respect to the story told in the book. The book is darker in some ways, and the film tries to make some of that nicer. I am not a purist and so I liked that. There are some things that a film can’t do. For example, one of my favourite passages in the book goes like this –

“But the river, though it flowed so slowly, had still a sense of movement and it gave one a melancholy feeling of the transitoriness of things. Everything passed, and what trace of its passage remained? It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in the river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy.”

Maugham writes this passage at the beginning of a chapter, halfway through the book. How can this be put in the movie? The scriptwriter can make one of the characters speak this. Or there can be a voice over which speaks this. But that is really force-fitting things. The author has the freedom and flexibility to include passages like this in the book. Sometimes the author can go on writing stuff like this for a few pages. The filmmaker doesn’t have this kind of freedom and flexibility. So, I think, if we appreciate this difference, it is possible to enjoy the story told through these two beautiful artistic mediums. I enjoyed both versions immensely.

One of the things I loved in the movie is that one of my favourite classical music pieces, Erik Satie’s Gnossienne 1 is played at the beginning of the movie, and it is a constant refrain throughout the movie. I have never heard Erik Satie’s music played in a movie before and I was so thrilled. This particular piece is so beautiful and haunting. It touches your heartstrings from the first note and refuses to let go till the end. It is so beautiful that it makes your heart ache. If you would like to listen to it, you can find it here.

One more thing I loved about the movie was the location where it was filmed. Most of the movie where the story takes place in interior China, was filmed in Guangxi province in China. Guangxi is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in China, and so each scene is a pleasure to watch.

Well, that’s it from here 🙂 I loved the film adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil‘. I hope to watch it again.

Have you seen ‘The Painted Veil‘ or read the original book? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to watch Satyajit Ray’sPather Panchali‘ (‘Song of the Road’) for a long time now. Finally, I got to watch this classic today. I must be the last person to watch it.

The story told in ‘Pather Panchali‘ goes like this. In a small village in Bengal lives a family, a couple and their daughter. An old woman also lives with them. They are always short of money and the husband doesn’t have a steady income. But they find happiness in the small things. Then the wife becomes pregnant and the couple have a son. The story continues as we follow the adventures of the girl and her younger brother as they play in the woods nearby, go to their neighbour’s homes, talk to the old woman, get sweets from the sweet vendor, cross the fields and see a train for the first time, enjoy getting wet in the rains. Then one day the husband leaves for another town to find a job. And the family, whose everyday life is challenging, goes through tough times. You should watch the movie to find out more.


I loved the realistic way rural life in India is depicted in the movie. How people find happiness in small things, how they inflict small cruelties on each other, how mothers expect daughters to be responsible but shower affection on their sons, how neighbours fight with each other but also show kindness towards each other, the affection kids and old people have for each other – all these are beautifully and realistically depicted. During the time when Ray’s popular Bollywood counterpart Raj Kapoor was playing the role of the charming, loveable rogue and dancing around in villages singing prescriptive songs and trying to walk like Charlie Chaplin, Ray’s first movie must have been stark with its realism. I don’t know whether it made money in the box office – probably not. I have heard oldtimers say that they went to the theatre to watch escapist movies and loved to watch the hero and the heroine dancing around a tree, and their real life was hard and they didn’t want to watch that on the screen too. So, I doubt that this  movie would have had a lot of mainstream fans when it first came out. But it takes a lot of courage to buck the trend and make a movie which showed things as they are, in contrast to Bollywood of that time which depicted people living in villas and having affairs and flying planes and having a ranch filled with horses – the kind of life most people never lived. We have to admire Satyajit Ray for that. Because Ray was a student of Renoir, I was expecting the European thing in the movie – the camera showing water dripping from the roof for a long time, or the rain falling or the wind blowing or the sound of footsteps, with nothing happening in the story. A little bit of that is there but Ray is careful not to extend it to European lengths. There is minimalism everywhere though – dialogue is there only if required, most of the movie doesn’t have music and we hear only natural sounds, but when music makes its appearance,  Pandit Ravi Shankar’s composition evokes magic. My favourite characters in the story were Durga, the daughter of the couple, Durga’s mother, and the old woman who lives in their place. Ray makes sure that this old woman looks old, instead of dressing her well and making her look like a matriarch. This old woman is beautiful, like the painting by Albrecht Dürer of his mother. The acting by all the actors and actresses is understated and realistic. The ending of the movie is sad but there is also room for future happiness and adventures.

After watching ‘Pather Panchali‘, I wondered why it is regarded as a great work and why it established Satyajit Ray’s reputation. The reason I thought of this was because I have seen many Tamil movies, which came out in the ’70s and ’80s which had a similar theme. Bharathiraja made movies exploring rural themes for more than a decade. They were wonderful movies. Others Tamil directors like Mahendran, Balumahendra, Bhagyaraj and Sridhar made some beautiful rural movies too. (I am sure this is true of directors in most Indian languages.) Why isn’t their work as acclaimed as Ray’s? Why didn’t they win the Golden Lion, for example? When I think about it, the explanation I can come up with, is this one. Ray, probably, was the first to make a realistic rural movie. He was the first off the block. Even the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Mother India’ came later. Many of these rural movies had the Indian / Bollywood formula – there were songs whenever the main characters were feeling happy or sad, there was a comedy track to provide distraction from the main plot etc. Most of these movies also had prescriptive endings, with one of the characters speaking a long monologue in the end, describing what is right and what is wrong. Ray’s movie, in contrast, had none of these. There were no songs, of course. There were no Bollywood-ish formulaic elements. And there was no prescription. Ray’s movie depicted life as it was. I read somewhere that Anton Chekhov once said that his stories didn’t tell people how to live their lives. It depicted how people lived their lives. He said that it was not the artist’s job to prescribe, to advice. It was his job to depict reality as it is. Ray’s movie does that.

I loved ‘Pather Panchali‘. I can’t wait to see the second part of the series ‘Aparajito‘ now.

Have you seen ‘Pather Panchali‘? What do you think about it?

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When one of my favourite directors Ingmar Bergman passed, I read his obituary in The Guardian. The writer of the obituary paid tribute to Bergman in glowing terms. Of course, he would. But he also mentioned other directors who he said were as great as Bergman. I can’t remember the exact list of those directors, but I think Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Yasujiro Ozu were on that list. I suspect that Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir and François Truffaut might have also been there on that list, but I am not sure. But I definitely remember one name from that list. The writer of that obituary said that this director was the best of them all. I can’t remember whether these were the exact words he used, but he definitely implied that. The Guardian’s articles are always unsentimental. This one was too. But behind that unsentimental façade, I could feel the writer’s admiration trying to burst out, explode. It was the way people talked about Donald Bradman. Or the way Bradman himself talked about Stan McCabe’s innings. Or the way people talked about Jim Laker’s 19 wickets. Or the way people talk about Gary Sobers. Or Keith Miller. Or Victor Trumper. Or Harold Larwood. Or if you like tennis more, the way people talk about Rod Laver. I wondered how it was possible that I hadn’t heard of this director’s name before, this director whom The Guardian’s film correspondent thought was the greatest of alltime. This director’s name was Robert Bresson.

Since I read the article, I have wanted to watch a Robert Bresson film. But for some reason, they were hard to find. Maybe, I didn’t look hard enough. So, I put his name in the list of directors whose movies I would like to watch some day and left it at that. Yesterday, I stumbled upon Robert Bresson’s filmography by accident, and when I browsed through the list, one of the names leapt at me. My heart leapt with it. I opened the shelf which had my DVD collection and rummaged through it. And I found the concerned DVD and took it out. Yes, it was there, in open daylight for all the world to see. I had the DVD of a Robert Bresson movie! It was ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. How I missed it all these years, I would never be able to understand. I think I I must have got it during the days when I used to do mass DVD shopping, without bothering who the director of a movie was, just going by the title of the film and a brief description of the film on the back cover. Well, I was very excited when I saw the DVD, and couldn’t wait to watch it. I had waited long enough.


The story told in ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ goes like this. A young priest goes to work in his first parish. The members of his parish are either hostile to him or indifferent to him. The girls in the school play practical jokes on him. The count who is an important person in the town, talks to him politely, but doesn’t help him much. The countess doesn’t care about God because her son died in an accident when he was young. The poor people in the parish are openly hostile to the priest. The priest tries to help everyone, giving them suggestions, intervening in their personal affairs to bring positive change to their lives, but the people in the parish rebuff him. The priest writes about his experiences in a diary. That diary is this movie.

As ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ is based on a diary, the story is told in the first person. It means that our narrator, the young priest, is there in every scene. We see the events unfolding through his eyes and we see them through his point of view. This is an interesting and difficult way to tell a story. Many scriptwriters and novelists have done that. But somewhere in the middle of the story, most writers find this way of narration too restrictive and add a third person omniscient narrator to keep the story moving. Some writers add a second or third narrator. Roberto Bolaño had a new narrator in every page of his novel ‘The Savage Detectives‘. But ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ sticks to a single narrator till the end. And pulls it off. That is one of the great achievements of the movie. The second thing that I loved about the movie was the minimalistic music. Music was mostly absent, except in a few scenes, and there were only natural sounds in the movie. It was beautiful to watch. The third thing I loved about the movie was that it was deep and contemplative. Though it had a strong story which was about a priest and his parish and the happenings there, because the story is narrated through the priest’s diary, there are many beautiful, contemplative, deep lines which make us think. Some of those lines ask some profound questions on faith. One of my favourite lines was this one, which the narrator’s mentor speaks to him.

“People don’t hate your simplicity – they shield themselves from it. It’s like a flame that burns them.”

It is no surprise that the movie is based on a novel. One could sense that, when listening to the contemplative lines being spoken – they have a bookish feel to them.

The ending of the story is beautiful, sad and in some way glorious too. You have to watch the movie to find out what that is. Claude Laydu delivers a brilliant performance as the young, idealistic priest.

So, what is the final verdict? I loved ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. I will be definitely watching more of Bresson’s movies. The big question though is this – is Robert Bresson the greatest film director of all time? I am not sure about that. I have always had a soft corner for Ingmar Bergman. I think he is still my favourite. But I like Bresson. And this is early days yet. So we have to wait and see what happens, while I continue to watch more Bresson movies.

Have you seen ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen other Robert Bresson movies? Who, according to you, is the greatest film director of alltime?

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When I discovered that there was a movie based on David Foster Wallace’s life, I had to watch it! This is that movie – ‘The End of the Tour‘. It is based on a road trip that another writer David Lipsky took with David Foster Wallace and the few days they spend together before and after the road trip. David Lipsky is working with the Rolling Stone magazine at that time. David Foster Wallace’s mammoth novel ‘Infinite Jest‘ has just come out and it is making waves. Critics are saying that it will win all the awards. Lipsky is skeptical about the book. His girlfriend asks him to read it. They both do. And after reading, Lipsky knows that it is a profound work. He is inspired by it and wants to write an article about Wallace for his magazine. And he arrives at Wallace’s home in the middle of nowhere. What happens in the next few days is some of the most beautiful, profound, weird and mundane things that Lipsky will experience. You should watch the movie to find out what that is.


There are a few characters in the movie and they are interesting, but the major part of the movie is a conversation between Lipsky and Wallace. So, there are no major plot twists and turns or cool scenes or stylish dialogue. While watching the movie, I felt like I was reading a book. The bookish atmosphere, the bookish spirit pervades throughout the movie. The conversation between the two characters is fascinating.

In one scene Wallace speaks these dark, bleak, profound, beautiful lines –

“There’s a thing in the book, about how when somebody leaps from a burning skyscraper it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And so, then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful that leaping to your death would seem like an escape from it. And I don’t know if you have any experience with this kind of thing but it’s worse than any kind of physical injury. It may be in the old days what was known as a spiritual crisis. Feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false and there is actually nothing. And that you are nothing and it’s all a delusion. And you’re so much better than everybody because you can see that this is just a delusion and you’re so much worse because you can’t function. It’s really horrible.”

Hearing those lines being spoken, I realized that this is no regular movie, this is no ordinary movie. It is beautiful, deep and profound. It is one of the great movies ever made.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the role of David Lipsky. He has patented that nerdy character these days and he has nailed it here as well. Jason Segel plays the role of David Foster Wallace and he is brilliant. He is unrecognizable from the man who played the adorable Marshall in ‘How I Met Your Mother‘. Clearly he can do things which are more than romantic comedy. Such a wonderful, brilliant talent. How these two guys missed winning the Oscar for their roles here, I will never know. Joan Cusack plays a charming character who appears for a brief while. Anna Chlumsky makes a brief appearance as David Lipsky’s girlfriend. There are two dogs which are adorable and which do adorable things.

I loved ‘The End of the Tour’. It is one of my favourite movies from this year. I still can’t believe that someone made a movie about a nerdy author like David Foster Wallace. This kind of stuff doesn’t do well in the box office. This fact doesn’t seem to have deterred them. This warms my heart because it means that some people still value art over money. May their tribe survive and thrive. If you are like me and read long contemplative books and watch movies which make you feel like you are reading those books, this movie is for you. If you are a David Foster Wallace fan, this is a must see. Now, I want to go and read ‘Infinite Jest‘ and come back and watch this movie again.

Have you seen ‘The End of the Tour‘? Have you read ‘Infinite Jest‘? Do you like David Foster Wallace?

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I watched the film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ directed by Martin Scorsese a few days back. I love Martin Scorsese’s movies. He is more well known for his gangsterish movies and others closer in theme to them. This is a very different Scorsese movie though because he has adapted a classic, a very unique film in his repertoire.

The basic story is this. The time is 1870s New York. Newland Archer is a young lawyer who is engaged to May Welland. Both of them are happy. And then a third person walks into the scene. It is May’s cousin Ellen. Ellen is married to a count in Europe and so she is Countess Olenska. Ellen has been away for a long time and she is European in thought and manner now. She is independent and liberal and creates a few flutters. She is back because she wants to divorce her husband, the count. Newland ends up handling her case. And before both of them realize, something happens and sparks are flying. What happens between Newland and Ellen? Will Newland’s love for May survive this? Will they get married? Can there be a happy ending to a triangle-love-story? Well, you have to watch the movie to find out.

I haven’t read Edith Wharton’s original novel, though it has been on my ‘To-be-read’ list for ages, and so it is difficult for me to compare, but looking at it independently, I loved this film adaptation. The New York of the 1870s comes alive on the screen, the workings of the high society of New York, the way social power and hierarchy is structured, the said and unsaid social and cultural rules – these are all beautifully depicted. The film won an Oscar for Best Costume Design and we can see why. The casting is mostly perfect. Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful and perfect and delivers a brilliant performance as Madame Olenska. I think this is my most favourite performance of hers yet and it definitely deserved an Oscar. I can’t believe that the Academy had never awarded an Oscar to Pfeiffer till now. Winona Ryder is wonderful as May Welland. Daniel Day-Lewis is good as Newland – for some reason I am not a big fan of him, though I love his voice. Scorsese’s direction is, of course, perfect.

I have to talk about one more thing. The last scene in the movie. I won’t describe it, because you have to watch it yourself. It was so beautiful, brilliant, poignant and perfect, that I couldn’t stop crying. Then I put that last scene on repeat mode and watched it for an hour. It was a perfect ending to the story like the best endings. After watching it, I took down Wharton’s book from my shelf and read that last scene. It was beautiful, but I have to say this. Though I believe that a book is mostly better than its movie adaptation, I have to still say this. Scorsese takes that beautiful last scene from Wharton’s novel, and improves on it and makes it better. He makes it brilliant. It just shows what a great director he is. What a great master he is.

Now the only thing left for me to do is to read Wharton’s book. I can’t wait to do that.

Have you seen ‘The Age of Innocence’?

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I haven’t blogged in a long while because I have been distracted by life. So, I thought it is time to get back. Starting with a film review this year 🙂


I watched a French movie called ‘Marie’s Story’ yesterday. Marie is born deaf and blind. She is a teenager now. She senses things only through touch. She only knows her parents. Her parents decide to send her to a school for deaf children which is managed by a group of nuns. But the Mother Superior there says that they can’t help a girl who is both deaf and blind. But one of the nuns there, Sister Marguerite, is able to connect with Marie. She convinces the Mother Superior that they should help Marie. And so starts a long and challenging and exciting process in which Sister Marguerite helps open Marie’s mind to the world and its rich experiences. How can a girl who is both deaf and blind, be able to communicate? How can she experience things, learn words and speak to others? This movie shows how it can happen. Our heart delights with pleasure and joy when we see Marie’s mind opening up to this beautiful world and we experience the joy of many beautiful first experiences through Marie’s mind. It is incredibly beautiful to watch. Arianna Rivoire and Isabelle Carré give brilliant performances as Marie and Sister Marguerite and I loved both their performances and characters.

‘Marie’s Story’ is based on the real-life story of Marie Huertin, who lived from 1885-1921. Till the end she was passionate about learning, became an expert in Braille and was wonderful at Dominoes. It is sad to know that she died so young – why do beautiful souls have to die young?

One more thing I loved about the movie was that both the cinematographer and the music composer were women – typically I have found only men in these roles. So, three cheers to Virginie Saint-Martin and Sonie Wieder-Atherton for breaking the glass ceiling here.

I know that it is early days yet, but I think ‘Marie’s Story’ is going to be one of my favourite movies this year and one of my alltime favourite movies. I watched most of the movie with tears in my eyes – the sad scenes, the happy scenes, the beautiful scenes, the heartbreaking scenes. There is a scene when Marie first meets her parents after she learns how to communicate – it is incredibly beautiful and moving. Also many beautiful scenes with Sister Marguerite – but I don’t want to spoil the story here. I can’t wait to watch the movie again.

Have you seen ‘Marie’s Story’?

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My reading has gone down a little bit of late, but last week I went on a movie-binge. I have wanted to watch these movies for a while now and I am glad that I finally got around to watching them. Here are the movies and what I think about them.

All That Matters is Past (Norwegian : Uskyld) directed by Sara Johnsen

The story goes like this. A man who is taking a walk in the woods discovers two men lying dead near to each other. There is a woman lying near to them and she seems to be alive, but only barely. It looks like the two men probably killed each other. He alerts the police. The police take the woman to the hospital. When she is in a position to speak, they interview her. She tells them her story. It turns out to be a haunting tale filled with tender moments, sibling rivalry, passionate love and evil.

All That Matters Is Past

I loved the movie. It covers many interesting themes – a triangle love story, the contrast between the simple life in the woods, being at one with nature, and the cacophony of the city, sibling rivalry and jealousy, evil and violence, illegal immigration. I have to say though that the screenplay is a yo-yo at times – it tries squeezing in too many things at times and at other times doesn’t give enough depth and detail to some of the elements of the story which require them. For example, the illegal immigration part doesn’t hang well with the rest of the movie, though it might be an important social theme in Norway. Also, the villain is kind at times and it is not clear why he is good and bad at the same time, though that aspect makes his character quite interesting. Also the story shows the heroine having a baby, but her life with her baby is left unsaid and left to the imagination. However, inspite of these, the film is beautifully sculpted scene by scene. We can feel the director’s and cinematographer’s love for their art in every scene. There are some violent moments which are difficult to watch. There is a scene in which the heroine gives birth to her baby – it is not air-brushed like it is done normally, but it is messy, beautiful and hard to watch. The director Sara Johnsen hasn’t shied away from showing the world as it is. Maria Bonnevie gives a haunting, sensitive, brilliant performance as the poetry teacher who abandons everything and leaves the city to go and live in the woods with her childhood sweetheart. One of my favourite actress discoveries of the year. I want to see more of her movies now. I think this is the second Norwegian movie I have seen ever, and I think Norwegian movies are awesome. I will be keeping an eye out for movies of Sara Johnsen and Maria Bonnevie.

Must Have Been Love (Norwegian : En Som Deg) directed By Eirik Svensson

The story told in ‘Must Have Been Love’ happens in four different cities – Istanbul, Oslo, Hensinki and Berlin. Three girlfriends are in Istanbul on a holiday. One late night, one of them, our heroine Kaisa, goes out to get some snacks and a drink from the next door grocery store. When she gets back she realizes that she has forgotten her key and she is locked out. Any amount of shouting doesn’t wake her friends up. While she is sitting on the stairs and sipping her cold drink, three tourists who are staying next door come out. They ask her whether they can help her and when she tells them her problem, they help her with their mobile phone and she uses it and tries calling her friends. When she is still not able to wake them up, the neighbours tell her that she can stay at their place for the night. The next day morning our heroine Kaisa goes back to her place to be with her friends. The three women and the three men next door stray into their respective balconies and before long start having a conversation. It turns out that the girls are from Finland while the men are from Norway. One thing leads to another and they decide to meet that night for dinner at the men’s place. During and after dinner there are sparks flying between Kaisa and one of the guys, Jacob. But she asks him a personal question and things turn awkward and the night doesn’t end well. The next day the men have vacated their place. The story now moves to Oslo. Kaisa is there now and she is a dance teacher. She doesn’t have any friends there and life is lonely. One day while grocery shopping, she sees Jacob. Jacob seems to have a moustache though. When she tries having a conversation she discovers that this is not Jacob. This guy’s name is Andreas. But they strike up a conversation, and later go to a café and have dinner. They keep in touch and they have dates and there is mutual attraction, though Andreas seems to be uncomfortable expressing his affection in physical ways – even a simple touch is hard for him to take. At some point, Kaisa and Andreas become a couple and when Kaisa moves back to Helsinki, Andreas moves with her. But things don’t go well because they have different personalities. And one day Kaisa stumbles upon Jacob. And the sparks start flying again. To find out what happens after that, you have to see the movie.


When I first started watching the movie, I wasn’t sure about the story happening in four cities. When I was younger I would have loved that – a love story happening in four exotic cities – what is not to like? But these days, I don’t really care about the names of locations (how does it matter whether a story happens in Venice or Paris or Timbuktu?) but what I care about is the plot, the dialogue, the way the characters evolve, the way the scenes are sculpted. So I was worried about the four-city thing here. But I needn’t have. Because at a fundamental level, the movie tells a beautiful love story – about how a chance meeting leads to attraction which in turn leads to love and to the challenges that surround it which sometimes lead to a breakup till a new dawn shines. In many ways this movie reminded me of Alain de Botton’s beautiful novel ‘Essays in Love’ and a movie which had a similar theme, ‘500 Days of Summer’. Pamela Tola delivers a charming performance as Kaisa and carries the movie on her back. I would love to watch more movies of hers. Most of the movie happens in the evening or in grey afternoons or when it is raining – I don’t know whether Norway and Finland are always like that. The movie has been listed as a Norwegian movie, and I found that classification interesting. Because most of the dialogue happens in English! Kaisa is Finnish and Jacob and Andreas are Norwegian and so Kaisa talks to them in English. Also we see the story mostly from Kaisa’s point of view. Norwegian plays only a minor part in the story.

Blondie (Swedish) directed by Jesper Ganslandt

Three daughters visit their mother’s home for her seventieth birthday. The eldest daughter is married and has two children. She seems to be the good daughter – takes care of her husband and children, has a good job, brings up her children well with a combination of discipline and love. The middle one is a model in Milan and is single. She seems to be the wild one. The youngest daughter is the one who is ignored like little ones are in every home. When the daughters arrive one after the other, things are nice at the beginning. Then the past comes back to haunt the family –  old wounds open up, the daughters are at each other’s throats, the mother doesn’t seem to be the benevolent seventy year old that we assume her to be, the eldest daughter isn’t the Ms.Goody shoes that we assume her to be (she is having an affair on the side), the middle daughter, the wild one, has hidden depths. The birthday party starts well and ends awkwardly and badly, the mother suddenly has a stroke the next day and the daughters come together to support each other and their mother. After that the story goes on to a predictable but a nice and beautiful ending.


There are many stories about family reunions where things go bad and Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt gives his own version of it here. Carolina Gynning plays the role of the middle daughter and she delivers a flawless performance. Though she has done many TV programs and as a model has been a public personality for a while, it is difficult to believe that this is just her second film – she acts like a veteran. Helena af Sandeberg as the eldest daughter who tries to balance the roles of daughter, mother, sister and wife while at the same time trying to get her share of happiness while being part of a complicated family – well, she shines brilliantly. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where the three sisters are sitting in a bar having a drink and a smoke and talking about old times – the fun things they did and the mean things they did to each other and sharing secrets – that was my favourite scene from the movie. I will be watching this movie again – atleast for that beautiful scene.

Lore (German) directed by Cate Shortland

The place is Germany and the time is towards the end of the Second World War. Lore is a teenage girl who has a younger sister, two even younger brothers who are twins, and a baby brother. Her father is a high-level Nazi officer and her mother supports the Nazi cause. Lore has been brought up to believe that the Nazi philosophy is great and Hitler is awesome and should be loved unconditionally and Jews are bad and dirty and shouldn’t be touched. One day her dad comes back home and tells the family that they have to pack and leave. Behind Lore’s back he shoots the family dog. Lore is shocked. They move to a house in the Black Forest, in the middle of nowhere. And her dad leaves home. One day Lore’s mom packs some of her things. She tells Lore that the Fuhrer is dead and she is going to be put in a camp. She tells Lore that she is responsible for her brothers and sisters now. She gives her money and all her jewels and tells her to take her siblings and go to her grandmother’s place near Hamburg. She then walks out of the house never to be seen again. Lore tries managing things by getting food from neighbours after paying them, but before long the neighbours turn hostile. Lore decides to take her sister and brothers on the long trek. On route they meet many different kinds of people, most of them poor and struggling for food. Some of them are nice, most of them aren’t. A young man tries to kiss her but she rebuffs him. And he starts following her and her siblings. They get stopped by an American army truck. They are outside during curfew time and it is hard for Lore to give a proper explanation. The young man comes to their rescue and says that he is their brother and they have lost their papers. He then shows his papers and it looks like he is Jewish. He then goes along with them and though Lore is uncomfortable with him, her siblings warm up to him and the young man becomes part of the extended family. Does this unlikely family manage to cross those hundreds of miles to their grandmother’s place? Is the young man Thomas really who he claims to be? You have to watch the movie to find out.


‘Lore’ is probably one of my most favourite movies from recent times. The scenes are sculpted beautifully, the story is gripping and makes us want to find out what happens next. The way every one’s of Lore’s beliefs instilled by her parents are challenged by what she sees on the ground and how the realization of the truth dawns on her is beautifully depicted. The acting throughout the movie is understated and wonderful. Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, delivers a stunning and brilliant performance. She was just nineteen years old when she did this movie and it is so hard to believe that. I can’t wait to see more movies by this talented young girl.

An interesting tidbit about the movie is that though the topic is German and the actresses and actors are all German, and the characters speak in German, the movie is Australian. I have seen this happen with European movies – French movies made by Belgian and Austrian directors – but I have never seen a German movie made by an Australian director. Interesting!

‘Lore’ is a movie that I will be definitely watching again. I am surprised that it didn’t win more awards.

Our Children (French : A Perdre La Raison) directed by Joachim Lafosse

Before I started watching ‘A Perdre La Raison’, I had a premonition. I had a premonition that things won’t go well. I had a premonition that I will be depressed in the end. And I was right. Murielle and Mounir love each other. Murielle is French while Mounir is Moroccan. They decide to get married. Mounir was brought to France by Andre who is a doctor. Andre helps him with his expenses and even offers him a job. Mounir lives with him in the same house. After Murielle and Mounir get married, Andre offers to pay for their honeymoon as a wedding present. Mounir then suggests that Andre should come with them. It is awkward. And things keep getting worse after that. The three of them live together in the same house. And it looks like Andre is in charge. Mounir is in a hurry to have children and Murielle gives birth to a daughter. Then she gets pregnant again and it is a daughter again. It seems that Mounir wants a boy. After three daughters, finally a son is born. Mounir doesn’t help much with the upbringing of the children leaving everything to Murielle. She finds it very hard to handle four children alongwith her job as a teacher. Andre helps out with the children, but Murielle doesn’t want that. She suggests to Mounir that they move out of Andre’s house and Mounir oscillates on that. When he suggests it to Andre, Andre explodes with anger. All these things makes Murielle feel that she is walled in her house and there is no escape. Gradually her emotional health plummets and she decides to do the unthinkable.


‘A Perdre La Raison’ is a devastating portrait of a young, cheerful woman whose emotional health plummets because of circumstances beyond her control and when every attempt she makes to make situation more bearable is thwarted by others how she opts to do the unthinkable. It is a movie which is difficult to watch and when I discovered that it was based on a real story, it made my heart ache. Emilie Dequenne as Murielle delivers a haunting, sensitive and flawless performance. I am not sure I will watch this movie again though. It made me depressed. I will however be looking forward to watching more movies by Emilie Dequenne.

Black Book (Dutch : Zwartboek) directed by Paul Verhoeven

When I discovered that ‘Black Book’ was directed by Paul Verhoeven, I wasn’t sure whether I should watch it now. Verhoeven directed the (in)famous ‘Basic Instinct’ and so I wasn’t sure what kind of movie ‘Black Book’ was. (Verhoeven has also directed hits like ‘Robocop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Hollow Man’, but still…) Well, after I started watching ‘Black Book’ I realized that I shouldn’t have worried.


It is the year 1956. Some North American tourists who have come on a visit to Israel. A woman who has come with her husband tells him that she is going to take some pictures. They are in a kibbutz right then and she somehow gets into a school and takes a picture of a teacher teaching her students. The teacher objects in Hebrew saying that she is intruding in her class, when the tourist recognizes her. She asks her whether she is Dutch and whether her name is Ellis. The teacher Ellis recognizes the tourist as her old friend Ronnie from the war years and they have a long conversation. After her friend leaves, Ellis goes to the beach, sits down and thinks about her past.

Before the Second World War Ellis was called Rachel. Rachel is a young Jewish woman who is a famous radio singer. But after the Second World War starts and Holland is occupied by the Nazis, she is in hiding and survives because of the kindness of neighbours. One day the house she lives in is bombed and she is saved by a young man in the nick of time. He takes her to his home and helps her. One day a car arrives at their place in the evening. A man gets out and warns Rachel and her friend that the Germans are looking for them. She realizes that he might be part of the resistance and asks him for help. He tells her to pack her things and come to a particular place. She gets money and valuables from a friend of her father’s and goes to the appointed meeting place. She finds her parents and brother there and she is delighted. The stranger who is part of the resistance helps them all board a boat and he leaves. The boat is supposed to take them across the lake away from German occupied territory to the liberated part of Holland. But midway through a Nazi boat catches up with them and everyone is gunned down. Rachel survives. But Rachel sees the face of the Nazi officer who is responsible and that image is seared in her mind. By a series of events, Rachel gets in touch with resistance. They help her in getting a new identity as Ellis, offer her work in their soup kitchen and when the time comes they offer her work as a spy to spy on the German officers.

Well, I can tell the whole story here, but I am not going to. Events move at a fast pace, there are some interesting new characters who come up, the supposedly bad guys have hidden depths, the good guys are not all they seem to be, there are some unexpected surprises in the end and a shocking revelation which is too hard to digest and the movie seems to end in a nice note, but then there are fighter planes flying above in the air again.

‘Black Book’ is a fast-paced gripping war movie, in which the story is told in the old-fashioned way. There is style, there is romance, there is gripping action, there is suspense, there are unexpected surprises and a shocking revelation in the end. The movie doesn’t shy away from war happenings – good people are killed, likeable characters get executed and some really nasty things happen in the end, about which I cannot even write about here. But overall, it is a stylish, cool movie which keeps us glued to our seats. One of the things I liked about the movie was the moral relativity – some of the supposed bad guys have more to them than meets the eye, and some of the good guys aren’t as good as we think them to be. The story also has a classic finish – all the loose ends at tied up in the end and just when we think that things are going to be peaceful from now on, the story tells us that war never ends. Carice van Houten delivers a charming performance as Rachel / Ellis, always holding her head high, always finding a way out of any tricky situation, keeping her good humour and beautiful smile intact and always keeping up her positive attitude – it is so infectious to watch and her enthusiasm and good humour rubs off on us.

When I finished watching the movie, I was happy and I was on a high – which always means that the movie was fantastic. ‘Black Book’ was voted by the Dutch public as the best Dutch film ever and I can see why. It is definitely one of my favourite movies and I will be definitely watching it again. Paul Verhoeven – well, as Optimus Prime says in ‘Transformers’ about humans, there is more to him than meets the eye 🙂

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