Category Archives: World Cinema Movie Recos

Some of my all-time favourites from World Cinema

Movie Recommendation: JCVD (2008)

Though the city of Brussels may be known to the world as the capital of Belgium, to worshippers of cheesy ’80s action flicks (also called ‘classics’), it is the birthplace of their God, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Steven Seagal was recently usurped from that position).

‘The Muscles from Brussels’, who, by his sheer screen presence, almost elevated B-grade martial arts films into art (keyword: almost), fell into a rut because, well, how many times could he make the world ‘aware’ about his prowess? Unfortunately, Van-Damme stayed in that rut for over a decade, churning out straight-to-DVD disasters with names like ‘Wake Of Death’, ‘Until Death’ and ‘In Hell’. Yes, Mithun Chakraborty in ’90s = Van Damme in ’00s.

But in a comeback that has potential to become the stuff of Hollywood legend, Van Damme returned to mainstream films for the first time in 9 years, with a film that garnered him critical acclaim for the first time in his career – with Time Magazine stating that Van Damme deserves ‘not a black belt, but an Oscar’ for his performance.

The credit for this goes to, French director Mabrouk El Mechri, who thought Van Damme had more potential than being just a clown in his movies (True story). So El Mechri wrote a part-biopic, part-fiction screenplay that gave a dark, comedic twist to the actor’s real life story. In JCVD, Van Damme plays himself, an out-of-work and out-of-luck actor, who’s going through the worst phase of his life – no money, no films, and a custody battle for his child that he’s likely to lose (all of which was true at the time of shooting).

But his life turns around when, on a trip to his hometown, Brussels, he finds himself unwittingly caught in the middle of a bank heist. And though he’s hostage to a fanboy gang that can’t believe it has a ‘national hero’ as prisoner, the world outside is led to believe that HE’s the perpetrator of the crime. What happens next is an often funny, sometimes heart-warming story of how Brussels’ biggest film icon falls from grace and then, rises up again, within the span of the movie.
Watch the black comedy for its bizarre take on Van Damme’s own life, or for the 6-minute, one-take monologue where the actor says things no actor would say about himself on camera – and mean it.

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Valerie Bodson, Herve Sogne
Written By: Mabrouk El Mechri, Christophe Turpin and Frédéric Benudis
Directed By: Mabrouk El Mechri

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, March 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Movie Recommendation: Insomnia (1997)

To the film buff, noir means, ‘a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography’. But to a layman, noir can be eloquently described in the following way: ‘Something to do with murder, detectives, night and sex’.

There’s classic noir, when this term was coined and used for movies like Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity and DOA. Then there’s neo-noir (LA Confidential), noir-sci-fi (Inception), noir-comedies (Novocaine), noir-westerns (Unforgiven) and stoner-noir. Yes, although stoner-noir refers to films like Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski, it could very well refer to your life if you are smoking up and watching an Uday Chopra film/Abhishek Bachchan ad at the same time – things could get very dark then.

There is debate on, about whether noir is a genre in itself or if it’s just a setting. But the thumb rule is: if the film is set at night, revolves around crime, and is NOT directed by M Night Shymalan, it may just be noir. Except in the case of 1997’s Norwegian film, Insomnia, directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg.

Apart from its very English name (or maybe ‘insomnia’ is called ‘insomnia’ in Norwegian also) and its very Swedish lead actor, Stellan Skarsgård, the film is Norway’s individualistic take on the genre. The ‘Land Of The Midnight Sun’ doesn’t have night for the major part of the year, and just by that virtue, it moves away from ‘standard’ noir conventions – since the entire film takes place in light (‘film noir’ literally means ‘black film’).

The movie follows a detective, Jonas Engstrom (Skarsgård) as he goes about investigating the seemingly calculated murder of a young girl, and ends up getting entangled in another crime. There’s the insomnia he has because of the sun glaring in his eyes from the window in his hotel room, and then there’s the lack of sleep because of the murders playing with his head, and consuming him each ray of sun at a time.

The tension on the screen is palpable from start to end, courtesy strong performances by the cast and Skjoldbjær’s skilful direction. And although writer Nicolas Frobenius reveals the suspense early, the tight screenplay makes sure you are always hooked, anticipating something next, though you don’t quite know what that is.

And no, Skjoldbjærg didn’t break into Christopher Nolan’s dreams and make the film before Nolan’s in 2002. Nolan’s Insomnia was an official remake – and if he loved the original enough to remake it, you’d be wiser by watching it yourself!

Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Maria Mathiesen, Sverre Anker Ousdal
Written By: Erik Skjoldbjærg and Nikolaj Frobenius
Directed By: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, April 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: The Names of Love (2010)

Ever realise how it’s so unfair that there are no guy-centric days, unless you are one of two guys who *celebrate* Valentine’s Day, LOSER? Err… The other one’s me, yes. And I totally believe that Valentine’s Day can be guy-centric too, if you meet the following criteria:

a) You celebrate it with as much enthusiasm that you celebrate all the other days you have been in a relationship… basically, by not getting dumped (That’s very manly, trust me).

b) You slyly get your girlfriend to watch movies which *seem* like your conventional rom-coms but have enough intelligence in them for you to NOT feel like Hugh Grant’s illegitimate offspring.

One such smart and layered rom-com (yes, there is such a thing) is Michel Leclerc’s 2010 French film, Le Nom Des Gens (The Names of Love). It sounds mushy, it has a mushy poster and it’s set in mushy, mushy Paris. But for a film posing as a rom-com, the movie has a strong political undercurrent, and a message of peace and tolerance (in the world).

The film’s about Baya Benmahoud (a stunning and sexy Sara Forestier), a left-wing activist, who literally lives her life by the adage, ‘Make love, not war’ – she sleeps with her political opponents to try and convert them to her cause – until she meets an awkward middle-aged man, Arthur Martin (a prim and proper Jacques Gamblin), who she’s bafflingly attracted to, since he’s not the Fascist she thought he was.

The film is a terrific watch because of its detail – the two leads are real people, with radically different heritages, who have both been trying to find their own identity in the time of racial prejudice, changing political climate and a dark past that includes surviving the Holocaust (some of the best-written bits of the film). And that’s a lot to achieve for a film that’s no-holds barred fun.

Watch the semi-autobiographical film, co-written with lot of heart by Leclerc and his wife Baya Kasmi, because it never takes itself seriously, and yet manages to deal the most sensitive of topics with a remarkable maturity. Plus, there’s much nudity, so that’s always worth mentioning!

Starring: Sara Forestier, Jacques Gamblin, Zinedine Soualem
Written By: Michel Leclerc, Baya Kasmi
Directed By: Michel Leclerc

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, February 2012 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: My Sassy Girl (2001)

Someone great once rightly said, ‘There’s no bigger fool than a man in love.’ …Okay yes, that was us. We said that. Just now. Because we truly believe in it (and because we are experienced in it. First hand. Multiple times. Ouch.) Of course, it’s only a mere coincidence that this saying somehow weaves in the theme of this issue. We never even saw that coming!

If there is a movie that actually *relates* to the crap we have subjected you to in the above paragraph, it is the 2001 Korean romantic comedy, Yeopgijeogin geunyeo (My Sassy Girl). The movie, based on a series of blog posts written by Kim Ho-Sik describing his relationship with his girlfriend, is the perfect romcom – girls *and* guys will love it. Because, in some way, it’s the story of every young relationship… where the guy is nice and the girl is evil. Or maybe, it’s just us.

This hilarious, sweet, and super wacky film is about a hopelessly romantic young man, Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-Hyun), who meets a drunk girl (Jun Ji-Hyun) one night, about to kill herself. He pulls her to safety, but realises, over the next few weeks, that it may have been a huge mistake, as the girl and he get into a relationship that makes him laugh and cry, sometimes together.

My Sassy Girl is one of those inexplicable movies that make you fall in love with them, without you even realising it. Much like “the girl” in the movie, who’s violent, half-mental and complicated but oh-my-God, bloody lovable (so yes, like the rest of female-kind).

Add to it the naïve, henpecked, clumsy Gyeon-woo, the quintessential ‘nice guy’ who is absolutely clueless on how to deal with girls in general, and this bizarre, bizarre girl in particular, and you have a romantic comedy that *actually* is both, with one of the best, most heartwarming endings ever!

The movie is one of the only ones ever in which the slapstick actually works for the lead characters, or perhaps it is just the fantastic script, direction or the acting – by artistes who seem like they were born to do this. If you plan on watching just one Korean film in your life, make this the one. You will be a FOOL not to!

Starring: Tae-hyun Cha, Gianna Jun, Jin-hie Han
Written By: Ho-sik Kim, Jae-young Kwak
Directed By: Jae-young Kwak

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, April 2012 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: No Man’s Land (2001)

For many ‘film buffs’ who grew up in the ’90s and just started realizing there was more to international films than the Home Alone trilogy, 2001 was a momentous year. One of ‘our’ films, Lagaan, made it to the Oscar nominations and shocked everyone worldwide (HOW could they ignore Sunny Deol’s water-pump-aided destruction of an entire country in Gadar?!?!) What was more shocking was that ‘we’ didn’t win, because in our heads, that wasn’ t really an option.

And even though 2001 was the year when Amelie became the one (and mostly only) movie that all ‘world cinema connoisseurs’ from India would ever see, the film that whooped the a**es of both Amelie and Lagaan, and rightfully so, was a Bosnian-Herzegovinan masterpiece called No Man’s Land.

The debut feature film from Bosnian writer-director, Danis Tanovic, No Man’s Land was an atypical war film – one that didn’t rely on strategy, invasion, explosions, gunfire, spilling guts or lots and lots of blood – but on the remarkable interaction between two soldiers, from opposite sides in the war.

A Bosniac soldier, Ciki (Branko Duric) and a Bosnian Serb, Nino (Rene Bitorajac) are caught in a ‘no man’s land’ trench between their respective battle lines, along with a third solder, who is unfortunately above a landmine, which would explode if at all he moves. The two soldiers themselves can’t get out of the trench because they’d then be killed by enemy fire from the other end.

Stuck in this bizarre catch-22, the two soldiers trade insults and jibes, mock each other, bicker with each other and vent to each other, only to realize how similar they are. The brilliant writing and direction captures precisely the fleeting moments when the two soldiers realize the futility of their anger towards each other and are reaching towards mutual respect – but are then overcome by duty and the realization that they are ‘enemies’.

The movie masterfully showcases the tragedy of the situation, the shallowness of the media, the apathy of the people in power, and the bitter-sweet comedy in it all. No Man’s Land is a movie that engages you, absorbs you, shocks you, but most importantly, makes you feel. It’s a movie about humanity – and how it’s a much misused phrase in the time of war.

Watch the movie for the spectacular acting, the tight screenplay, the focused direction and the fantastic dialogues, but mostly, watch it for the story of an unlikely friendship that never was, that perhaps isn’t, and that in principle, can’t be, but one, if it happens often enough, could supersede the need for war.

Starring: Branko Djuric, Rene Biotrajac, Filip Sovagovic
Written By: Danis Tanovic
Directed By: Danis Tanovic

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, July 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Reccomendation: Goodbye! Lenin (2003)

‘Freedom’ perhaps means drastically different things to the different film industries across the globe. Because it is nothing but freedom that has allowed A Clockwork Orange, Anti Christ, and *ahem* Deep Throat to see the light of the day. But it is also freedom because of which Double Dhamaal and every-Akshay-Kumar-movie-ever-made, haven’t been shunned and destroyed forever.

Because it is nothing but freedom that has allowed the genius of Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Guru Dutt to thrive well beyond their time. But it is also freedom because of which Uwe Boll, Manoj Night Shyamalan and Ram Gopal Varma have not been sentenced to a dreadful, gruesome movie hell in which they’d be made to watch their own movies repeatedly.

Because it is nothing but freedom that has allowed the guy whose definition of ‘cult movie’ used to be Salman Khan’s Judwaa in his growing up, or what I now call, demented, years, to write this movie column for six months (woo hoo!) and get away with it. But it is also freedom because of which I get to crack bad jokes like that, address myself in third person, send in my column AFTER the last minute, but still give some awesome (true story) movie suggestions and make it up to you all (and more importantly, to the benevolent, merciful, and angel-like Editor of Noise Factory).

Freedom, incidentally (!), is also the running theme of one of the cooler German movies of the last decade. 2003’s Good Bye Lenin! Is not only Wolfgang Becker’s ode to a unified Germany free of the famous Berlin wall that split its unity and identity, but also a sweet, touching goodbye to a mother as well as a motherland.

The movie is about Alex Kerner (Daniel Bruhl), whose staunchly Socialist mother (Katherine Sass) suffers a heart attack on seeing her son take part in an anti-communism rally in the time East Germany was still largely under the influence of Soviet Union’s policies. Alex’s mother goes into an eight-month long coma, during which the Berlin wall is taken down and Germany is unified under a capitalist regime. But when she miraculously wakes up, Alex has to go to largely-sweet and often-hilarious lengths to turn the Germany around his mother back into the socialist GDR she so loved, or she may suffer another attack.

While the movie’s plot in itself is so unique that it definitely warrants a watch, it is the excellent screenplay that so expertly blends the themes of family, freedom and not forgetting one’s roots, you end up watching many movies in one, each little movie wonderful in its own way. Watch the film for its take on history or relationships, or simply watch it to know… how freedom means different things to different people.

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova
Written By: Bernd Lichtenberg and Wolfgang Becker
Directed By: Wolfgang Becker

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, August 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: Waltz With Bashir (2008)

It’s a disturbing irony that although we all admit that wars are awful, horrible and appalling, we love watching war movies. And the more awful, horrible and appalling the war is, the more fascinating a movie made around that war seems to be.
Although war movies are superficially aimed at inspiring patriotism or preaching the all-important lesson of world peace, war films are really just made for the same reason for which ‘the devil once sold his soul to Jack Bauer’, for which ‘death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience’ and for which ‘Rajniknath makes onions cry’ – we get a perverse, primal pleasure in watching men kill other men. …Okay, at least ‘I’ do.

But then, every once a while, there’s a movie that makes you want to shut yourself in your bedroom and hide under the bed, frightened that the ghosts of war movie past will haunt you for a long, long time. Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour was the first movie that had this effect on me – I usually only cry on Valentines Day as much as I cried when Josh Hartnett died in that movie.

But Waltz With Bashir is no Pearl Harbour (thankfully). It’s a stark, profound and harrowing feature-length documentary that uses surreal animation to firmly drive home the point that ‘only the dead see the end of war’.

Written and directed by Israel’s Ari Folman, the documentary features Folman, as he tries to uncover the truth about what happened 25 years ago in the 1982 Lebanon War, when he was an infantry soldier in the Israel Defence Forces. Folman has been having nightmares about the war but has somehow repressed his memories of it and can’t remember what really happened.
In the one-and-a-half-hours that follow, with the help of interviews with his old friends and fellow ex-soldiers, Folman recreates the events that led up to the horrific Sabra and Shatila Massacre at Beirut, through classical music, comic illustration graphics and a gritty screenplay, that unfolds like a realistic dream… rather, nightmare.

Waltz With Bashir is a must-watch movie experience not because it looks at the obvious horrors of war through the eyes of a 19-year-old who’s not sure if he’s the victim or the victimizer – but because of the disconcerting fantasy world Folman constructs, which makes you believe YOU are that 19-year-old.

Starring: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag
Written By: Ari Folman
Directed By: Ari Folman

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, June 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.