Haider – It doesn’t strike one as an appealing piece of cinema, but come hell or high water this is certainly striking!

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Haider (India/2014)

UK Release by UTV Motion Pictures – 2nd October 2014

Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj

Brief Synopsis: A retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a conflict driven state of war on terror. A young man returns to this homeland to discover shattering circumstances that lead to great strife – a maddening search for the truth begins. 

This film is a bomb. This abstract interpretation almost encapsulates everything about this film. On the surface level, the bomb ticks, it goes off and the aftermath brings devastation and then it goes off again to end all cause. On the second level, the aesthetic is in a constant stream of change, it is always amidst the very explosion of the bomb. On a third level, the bomb is even more timeless and clearly depicts the raw humanistic features of destruction that are inescapable. In other words, there is no escaping for the characters in the film and no escape for the audience either (apart from a short interval!).

I was initially puzzled, duly stunned and later on extremely tenterhooks as this exasperating and almost madly dramatic piece of cinema unfolded before me. It is not quite a masterpiece in the sense that I like to think of one; it is almost too impressive in its set pieces and brash in its revelations. It is too energised and well crafted in different places that it feels like three movies in one. However, Bhardwaj is no doubt impeccably masterful in his constructive shifting of tone and constant pace as the film progresses and reaches its intolerable climax.

I don’t feel fashioned enough to Bollywood cinema to understand fully what may lie between the lines, but the initial spectacle of this film is a truly global event and great cinema. Whilst the odd performance felt uncultivated, the lead Shahid Kapoor (Haider) expresses mind-blowing emotions and a fresh unveiling of traumatic circumstances that hits the mark of the near unthinkable. There are interesting relationships in this film; Haider’s relationship with his mother (Ghazala), played by Tabu with an almost equal intoxication, steals the show and presents a minefield of intricacies. A number of other relationships are explored with intricate detail, but perhaps there is too much shape-shifting going on.

Nevertheless, bring barrels of energy with you to the cinema because this is an exquisite treat of explosive and even poetic proportions. You will not guess all the plot twists and turns despite the Shakespeare outlet and you will become almost entranced by the magnetic lead performances.

4.5/5 stars

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A Walk Among the Tombstones – It sounds far more enticing than it really is

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A Walk Among the Tombstones (US/2014)

UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 19th September 2014

Directed by Scott Frank

Unfortunately, this film leaves no room for curiosity or character insight. Yet, those elements are not entirely necessary for the film to play out in its own confidence as a systematic and noirish thriller.

Liam Neeson is hard at home with tough nails, fierce jujitsu skills and ex-cop attire. However, there is no explosive dynamite, but rather a late package that Neeson carries on his shoulders at a steady pace, marking off every checkpoint along his obstacle course. The obstacles are not thick and fast, but they are hollow and potholed. I may have been in a passive mood, but the two killers who Neeson is after appear pathetic on all fronts: they are not scary, they are whimsical in their approach to crime and there is not the slightest chance that they will get away. The victims and their relations, who act as the catalyst for Neeson’s seemingly unprompted involvement, also come across as ill informed and lacking the bite for what should be nail-biting thriller. The plot is straightforward and clear-cut for a no doubt exciting experience, but the elevating spine is missing.

To conclude, it appears that the lack of subtlety, the lack of reasoned time and place of the characters and intelligible events, left me stricken with a rather dry experience.

2/5 stars

Ida – It just feels so pure, it’s hard to explain..

Ida Pawel PawlikowskiIda (Poland/2013)

UK Release by Music Box Films – 26th September 2014

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

Brief Synopsis: Ida is about to take her vows when she heads out into the open with her Aunt Wanda on a voyage of discovery. A dark secret of past family trauma relating back to the Nazi occupation awaits. Quite simply, neither life will ever be the same again.  

Every frame of this film acts the equivalent to a piece of artwork that one wants to behold. It is meticulously crafted in lightly faded black and white with every mild camera movement articulating the sense of approaching drama. The film is entirely minimalist and beseeches the cold and faded landscapes of a semi-derelict and post-war land. Here is a clear and finely cut case of less is more. Stunning.

Agata Trzebuchowska is magnifying in her portrayal of a young woman (Ida) on the cusp of becoming a nun. Her deep eyes give off a radiance of complex feelings about the surrounding world. Her long blonde hair is symbolic of her freedom, her beauty and ultimately, the particular power of individual human features. Every object or element in Pawlikowski’s frame begs depth and interpretation of meaning. I won’t get caught up with details here, but the hungry viewer should watch the material with finesse.

Ida’s Aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) leads her on an uneasy road to discovery, yet what she discovers is a haunting depiction of reality and the suffering that lies beyond. Wanda’s character lays the foundations of communist décor in 1960s Poland; she is a retired judge who is excused of any wrongdoing and an outlandish character consistently searching for truth and pleasure. One feels as though the ground may erupt at any moment.

Pawlikowski is not afraid to lead us directly into his narrative, he does not spend lengths developing the characters backgrounds for example; he simply presents us with them and lets the ambiguity draw us inside. This is reason alone to herald the magnificent performances and ingenious camerawork. A number of conclusions can be drawn from this film, a number of insights gained and a number of subtleties left to explore, if so inclined. I will certainly be watching it again.

5/5 stars