In Custody


India / 1993 / Hindi & Urdu

Directed by Ismail Merchant

With Om Puri, Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi

Still from 'In Custody'To love an art form that is nearing extinction, even if it be in the immobile and eminently preservable realm of literature, is an experience at once frustrating and gratifying, requiring a necessary degree of stubbornness to help its unfortunate sufferer to fight the good fight. And it may be that no one on Earth knows this condition better than Deven, a cantankerous teacher of Hindi at a college in an undistinguished North Indian city. He is an enthusiast of a venerable form of Urdu poetry that, it would seem, is emanating from a dwindling number of dedicated pens. An amateur poet on the side, he gladly accepts the opportunity, when asked by a magazine editor friend named Murad, to interview his all time hero, the great poet Nur Shahjahanabadi. Read the rest of this entry »


The Hunt


Spain / 1966 / Spanish

Directed by Carlos Saura

With Ismail Merlo, Alfredo Mayo, José María Prada

Still from 'The Hunt'Four men drive through the midday heat into the foothills of the Pyrenees, looking forward to a day spent getting away from the stress of work, and shooting a few rabbits. Two of them, José and Luis, are business partners, and they are meeting up with Paco, a friend from a long time back, with whom they fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Accompanying the group is Paco’s brother-in-law, a fresh-faced young man named Enrique. In their brusque reintroductions at a roadside diner we begin to sense that, in contrast to Paco, who has been steadily and shrewdly building his own fortune, the other two men have experienced traumatic professional and personal failures. However they lack the energy or the need to hide the overflow of regret that marks this minor reunion as they speed towards their hunting ground – hills where, they fondly reminisce, loyalist soldiers once fled from their crackling rifles. Read the rest of this entry »

Still from 'A Dedicated Life'

Kazuo Hara, Private Eye

While filmmaking of any kind has an innate element of introspection, the analytical form of the documentary often tries to resist this important point. Of the directors who put their lives before the camera, most fall into one of two categories: those, like Jonas Mekas and Ross McElwee, for whom autobiography is the primary format; and still others who include themselves but abstain from doing so in a self-examining way. In the case of Japanese documentarian Kazuo Hara’s work, the reflective, egotistical presence of the filmmaker is often just as essential as the things that are happening onscreen. He usually isn’t ostensibly the subject of his own work, but he never fails to cross through the beam of his own critical gaze. In the bigger picture that extends beyond the frame, the observer is never just that, a fact of which Hara continually reminds us. Meanwhile he pushes subjectivity beyond its useful limits and breaks it down, digests it and displays its contents for us to see. Read the rest of this entry »

The White Dove


Czechoslovakia / 1960 / Czech, German & French

Directed by Frantisek Vlacil

With Karel Smyczek, Katerina Irmanovová, Vjaceslav Irmanov

Still from 'The White Dove'In a village at the edge of the Baltic Sea a German teenager named Suzanne awaits the arrival of a carrier pigeon addressed to her. She lives in a blanched and windswept place of old brick houses, where the sea is pierced by docks, causeways, and strange sand bars that the tide avoids. When the flock of pigeons comes in all the way from Belgium, the old men of the village rejoice with childlike glee, but Suzanne’s bird is absent, and she is left only to hope for its eventual appearance. She becomes fixated on it, waiting for it day and night, and unbeknownst to her it has become the object of someone else’s obsession, an artist named Martin who lives in an apartment building in far-off Prague. The bird, wounded and lost in a storm, has found itself at his window, bleeding inky rivulets across his lonesome field of vision. Read the rest of this entry »

France / 2007 / French & Arabic

Directed by Abdellatif Kehiche

With Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Bouraouïa Marzouk

The sky turns overcast above the slate blankness of a modern French port city, and it is a lousy day for Slimane, a North African man working at one of the busy shipyards, in the autumn of his life. His foreman has just informed him that he is not working as fast as he used to, that his hours will be cut. He registers real hurt at this news but nothing breaks his disconnected, uninflected gaze, as though his present were too saturated with memories of the past to incorporate any of the gravity of current events. A prodigal patriarch, he still takes time to visit the members of his family, which in itself seems an exhausting undertaking – there is a gaggle of children, ranging from teenaged to grown-up and moved-out, and his wife Souad, who maintains her air of impatience with him even though his propensity and even ability to stir up trouble with anyone appears long-since extinguished. Read the rest of this entry »