Blue Velvet (1986) – Smooth Consciousness

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Is Blue Velvet David Lynch’s ode to Sigmund Freud? It seems so, but what I feel after watching Blue Velvet for the umpteenth time, not by any shape literally, is that it’s an ode to filmmaking. We’ve heard a lot about the Lynchien Style immortalized by David Lynch. Surfacing as a simple story, with a dense theme hovering beneath the ocean of the mind, Blue Velvet might be Lynch’s most accomplished work and that is a mammoth statement because of the pedigree of David Lynch as a storyteller. Today, this style of film may have received the Lynchien title, but back in 1986—when the movie hit the screens after a tug of war, Blue Velvet was far from any staple, signature movie. It was a deep rooted sexual movie with hard tones of violence, misconduct, abuse, dystopia, and the dreaded charms of an underworld that, as the central character validates, a spiraling secret in a calm looking town that may be the ideal summer location, but layers and layers within, it’s the hub of all that is wrong in society.

Blue Velvet is a neo-noir film that borrows much from Alfred Hitchcock as much as it does from the gothic literature of the world. A surrealist drama along the lines of Eraserhead (1977) and Mulholland Dr. (2001)—much after Eraserhead portrayed surrealism and internal tension at its zenith, and much before the ardently dreamy and dreary Mulholland Dr.—Blue Velvet has tinges of Eraserhead and the intoxication of Mulholland Drive. Packaging it as a complete neo-noir, surreal drama that is not only awake in the subconscious state but is fully fathomable from a conscious perspective, this special story asserts the liberties of human psychology and consciousness as its cornerstone comprising of a stratum filled with motifs, symbols, and the simple theme of right vs. wrong. This right vs. wrong chapter is hardly as simple as it sounds though. What you find underneath this right vs. wrong theme is the three stages of Freud’s human mind and the psychic apparatus of the Id, Ego, and Superego. The characters in Blue Velvet all represent the Id, Ego, and Superego at some level, which ideally shapes Blue Velvet as a psychological thesis of human mind and conditions around the trepidations of society.

Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth signifies the Id of the human mind. His raw, violent, instinctual methods that enslave him have the vibrancy of id written all over it. Kyle MacLauchlan’s portrayal of Jeffrey Beaumont represents the superego—the master moralist of our mind exhibiting the concepts of right and wrong in us, whilst the mediator, the ego, could largely fall into the laps of Laura Dern as the realistic and lovable Sandy Williams, the daughter of the small time Detective, Mr. Williams (George Dickerson). The special element in all of this, the whole of mind and consciousness, Femme Fatale Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) completes the mysterious saga with her repressed and painful joie de vivre hovering between her strive to the superego of Jeffrey, yet trapped in the cage of the id of Frank Booth. Essentially, Blue Velvet is the persuasive gang war of mental gangs promising to devastate the world outside the mind, with the various shades of painting leaving a rich impression—lasting and incongruent—in this story of a world within a world, a secretive mare within the alluring forces of sex, beauty, and poison.

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Going back to Freud, David Lynch largely explores the Oedipus complex in the movie. Whether it is Booth in search for sexual gratification from his roleplaying  “mother,” Dorothy Vallens, or Jeffrey seeking the same end of motherly affection albeit subtle and emotional, what you find in this surreal drama is the heights of Freudian Psychology, under the mask of noir and mystery. Dorothy Vallens epitomizes the allure of the mind and her character is rich, suicidal, and driven by her introspective goals. This makes Blue Velvet an experiment on the object that women like Vallens become under the possession of certain beings. She degrades from the highs of a flying Robin in the sky to the derailment of bugs torturing her psyche transforming her from a real mother to a victimized masochist who pleasures in being tortured, maltreated, and dumped. That is until she stumbles upon one superego that comes to her life as a blessing and corrects her state and condition, whilst restoring her prestige as the flying Robin in the sky free and in union with her inner true self.

The background score (by Angelo Badalamenti) of the movie really touched me. Every score does its job in enhancing the experience for the viewer and emphasizing in authenticating the central theme of each sequence, yet with Blue Velvet, it goes a notch up. The themes resemble the dark arts and gothic fiction. At one point, we even travel adjoining a Catholic Church echoing the liturgical hymns, when Jeffrey and Sandy talk about the repercussions of their findings leading to their much anticipated kiss, which is another facet of the story, the slow and methodical build-up of their romance, that gives a movie a certain repressed flaming identity. Flaming it is, as Lynch cuts back to rapid flames flickering off the candle from time to time to highlight the obscurity of the situation and the rigid mutability of the central characters.

Would it be appropriate to call our central character a voyeur? I think it would. From his voyeuristic suggestions sneaking into Vallens’ apartment to his crunching curiosity to get deeper into this mystical woman and the world surrounding her, the character of Jeffrey has its own doses of voyeurism. Sandy even refers to this by asking if Jeffrey is a detective or a pervert. Certainly neither, as Jeffrey is the grand moral pillar who is shaky and dejected himself, but his superego functions in regular intervals to make him a soothing influence to all those concerned in the movie, except those driven by their perennial brute instincts. Blue Velvet is just polarizing in many ways. There is an enigmatic sex Goddess in Dorothy, the antithesis of Dorothy in Sandy, and the synthesis of both in Jeffrey. Wrapping these together in an intriguing story, whilst telling the story from the intra reality of all these characters, Blue Velvet is hands down the best fusion of neo-noir films and surrealism, which in turn makes it a legendary mystery written and directed by the master storyteller, David Lynch.

Despite being heavily loaded, like a rifle, Blue Velvet is amongst the simplest stories from Lynch. It’s not as arid as Eraserhead or as distrait as Mulholland Dr. Different to the Elephant Man’s realism, and a step above Lost Highway with the surrealism drive present in its own lost highway here, Blue Velvet is a modest story enhanced by the artistry of David Lynch and is the second installment in the unofficial trilogy started with Eraserhead, heightened with Blue Velvet, and climaxed with Mulholland Dr. A blend of the 40s Cinema, the psychoanalytic movement, the paroxysm of reality overriding conscience, and the secrecy that lies not just within society in a paradoxical manner, but also within each human using the mask that would probably be similar to The Mask of Dorian Gray.

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Blue Velvet is a brutal burying of the pseudo-intellectual crusade forcing us to accept life in our own exclusive platform shaped by our parents, society, and circumstances. As a movie, it’s a demolishment derby of Lynchien Cinema, and the finest perhaps from the most perplexing filmmaker of his generation. The elements of noir make love with the depths of surrealism to produce an absolutely enigmatic movie that should be the object of adulation for any film enthusiast and the one movie deserving of multiple viewings because it just so happens to be that damn good.

Book Review: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967)

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Ira Levin wrote a classic book that came out in the summer of 1967 and went on to become an instant hit at the bestsellers list. In a foreword by Otto Penzler, he writes:

Levin was not a believer—not in any organized religion, not Satanism, not witchcraft, not in any of the myths or charismatic real-life figures who have engendered worship. In fact, he had rather hoped that his novel would help to increase the skepticism that had always resided with him. It wasn’t to be.

The summary of Levin’s mentality that propagated him to inscribe the classic horror novel might have been to slash the quacks associated with Satanism, Alternate Religion, Devil Worshippers, and such widely intriguing concepts that have absorbed horror fanatics and skeptics of religion for a long time. What resulted was of course, as expected, increased fascination into the already beguiling topic of Satanism and the underground society of Satanic Covens. We could say that the popularity and the ensuing leapfrog into these occult phenomena defeated the purpose of Levin’s work. Yet in doing so—not only did Ira Levin produce a classic in the genre of horror and mystery, but also handed the likes of Stephen King further incentive to venture into this genre that might date back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula for creating a character that is arguably the greatest modern fiction character in the history of Western Literature. Fortunately, for us, it kick started a plethora of horror fiction and characters that live on until today rivaling the hymns of religion and God, whilst shaping the world of fiction into two poles of white and black—led by God on one side and Satan on the other side. Simply ironic, isn’t it?

For a book that has lived on for 47 years, and counting, the plot of Rosemary’s Baby would hardly be anything but unknown. Accelerated by the movie adaptation by Roman Polanski, in an as exact manner as he could, Rosemary’s Baby had now transformed from a state of visual imagination to a state of visual reality. The movie itself went on to become a feather in the hat of horrors in film and without much hesitation; it is one of the best movies from the lens of Roman Polanski. Saying all of that, this piece is hardly about the movie. It is about the prose that Levin created from his own imagination and observation of the world around him—as a critic of such forms of religion and as an inscriber of imagination, one of the best in the game.

The story begins with a couple, Guy Woodhouse and Rosemary Woodhouse in search of a new house to begin a new phase in their lives. They come across an old Victorian-styled Gothic house at Bradford in New York. The catch, of course, is that the house carries its own air of controversies and a history of witchcraft and devil worshipping. Aesthetics override logic; the lovey-dovey couple decides it’s the house for them. Once they grace the architecture of the classic house, realities change for both, with Guy flourishing in his career, and poor Rosemary spiraling into a dreaded circle amidst witchcraft that promises to take away her unborn baby; thereby shattering her life, or so it seems…

Ira Levin has an exquisite style of writing, minimalist without wasting words and getting to the point as quickly as he can. When he does describe the atmosphere and surroundings in detail, you’d wonder what clues is he giving you, or how it would all work out in the end. This is what sets apart Rosemary’s Baby. Being a horror novel, it barely exposes the horrific elements rather plays with the psyche of your personality, through Rosemary who is the central character. Laying down a set of omens, signs, and symbols, Levin places warnings as steps and as you climb on them, ultimately—you reach the point of no return. Midway through the book, I realized that the story doesn’t have anything drastic and such apparent episodes in a horror sense. It isn’t there, but it’s still eerie. It doesn’t freak the muscles out of you; it just keeps you hooked. With his limited omniscient narrator point-of-view, the writer makes you observe situations around, the environment, and notice the tiny odd details that may as well work as the biggest points in taking the story further and building to an unexpected and nervy climax.

In the build up to all of this, Levin is somewhat cagey. When things do fall into their place at the start of the second act, the story runs rampant almost difficult to keep track of the page count as I found myself turning it in rapid succession myself. With a visual style of writing, you could imagine the happenings quite astutely, almost as if it were a movie because Levin aids in this with a staunch grip over what he wants to show, what he wants us to know, and how he intends to take it further. My visual tubes were flying in imagination when reading this horror classic; engrossing would be the correct term.

Throughout the book, the reader will find dark undertones hidden under the normal lives the couple seems to live. Almost too dark, and I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, the narration persuades you to root for Rosemary in this house filled with a myriad of perplexing personas. At one point, you’d wonder who is sane and who is not; who is evil and who is good. The interactions between Rosemary and Guy (her husband) irritated me to no end, not because it was uninteresting or melodramatic. It was weirdly interesting and alarmingly freaky, but mainly because of the cold and distant behavior of Guy towards Rosemary indifferent to her woes, or perhaps even blind and suspending of Rosemary’s troubles. Add to that, the chilly twists, and the creepy mannerisms and auguries, I would be lying if I said I didn’t look around while reading this novel midnight all alone in my house!

Rosemary’s Baby is a distinct exhibition in genre of horrors. Not too long, not short, it is the right length and never once will you feel jaded reading this book. For the style Levin uses, clarity, precision, and matter of fact, the sequences are enthralling and keep you occupied throughout. For avid or selective readers, both, Rosemary’s Baby is the perfect go-to book if you want something clear-cut and interesting. Filled with motifs and almost ridiculing the phenomenon of vibes, signs, and textbook manuals into Witchcraft and Wizardry, Levin’s original purpose might have been to debunk the myth of Satanism and Superstitions, but this novel has only enhanced the curiosity of viewers, especially lovers of horrors and mysteries.

The final pages of the book could have been better. It’s one fault I found and as stimulating as the entire book is, the last wee pages didn’t live up to the gigantic expectations I was carrying towards a mammoth climax—perhaps rivaling Dracula, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde. It doesn’t pull the book down for me though, maybe slightly, but the climax is unexpected and startling—pulled off with a vivre of enchantment, so it has its own merits and gives a fresh look into things contrasting to what Levin coaxed me to expect. At one point, I was almost worried that all of it would turn farcical, and that is how much the book influenced me as a reader…

Rosemary’s Baby is a tense horror ride until the end and engrains the reader with a paranoid outlook even after you’ve finished reading the book. It is tautly written; exploring much more than the world of devils and spirits, whilst giving us an insight into the psyche of humans and the pervasiveness of ulterior dark arts in our so-called age of Science. A must read book for all readers, especially for aspiring writers of fiction because the second act of the book might be the most interesting pieces of stories, and a rarity that the build to the finality rivals the finality itself in anticipation, execution, and intrigue. Just read it!

Fargo (1996) – Opposites Attract One Another

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Watching Fargo reminded me of Susan Glaspell’s one-act drama, The Trifles, not because the plot is the same, but the inherent poetry and irony in both the stories share a strong semblance. Perhaps they could be non-identical twins in the macrocosmic phenomena of fiction, yet Fargo is a romantic transcription of a story that the Coens claim to be based on true events. Whether that is true or not is up in the air, but that doesn’t change much; Fargo is a musical—almost too elegant—and is meant to be appreciated as a play, a brilliant play.

Directed by the Coen Brothers (credited to Joel Coen), Fargo is a musical crime drama set on the snowy blazes of Minnesota (shot across North Dakota, Minnesota, and Canada). Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is buried under debts and more debts. As a remedy to all his woes, he hires two conmen (played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormar) to abduct his wife (Kristen Rudurd as Jean), the sole daughter of his ultra-rich father in law (Harve Presnell). The initial plan works out just fine but things don’t turn out as expected after the kidnapping. The family, the kidnappers, and our own Jerry are left in a muddy mess following a homicide in the middle of nowhere; the crime falls on the laps of the very pregnant, and adorably cute, local cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Twisted, complex, yet terribly simple, Fargo embodies the trifling absurdity of complexities and in a whisker, the movie channels a fresh turmoil told in an appealing and poetic manner by the Coens.

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Fargo is a crime thriller that is unique, as clichéd as that would sound, yet it is a new berth in the genre that attempts—very successfully—to blend the Shakespearean Era of Dramedy to the modern concept of crime thrillers. With witty and quirky characters, all having a dynamic routine, Fargo feels like an organized symphony of characters. No wonder, it has a catching, explicit background score (Carter Burwell) that evokes an emotional nuance and alongside the riveting cinematography (by Roger Deakins), the movie shapes into a musical crime fiction that almost gives the feeling of reading an artsy prose than watching the mystery unravel through the chirpy characters. In many ways, Fargo is satirical having a smooth flow, unobstructed and abstruse, garnered with awkward predicaments and a thorough examination of an episodic crisis. The steadfast characters in zippy conditions and their reaction to each situation catapult this movie as a bittersweet experience despite the seriousness in the situation, which the Coens present in a light, humorous, and distant manner.

As a spectator and admirer of cinema, I adore the cinematography of Fargo. Far-away shots, a warm color, textbook composition, and a melodic photography overall that is complimented by the sincere art direction stylizing Fargo as not merely a wonderful story on camera, but also visually abundant cinema that moves without really moving and captures the hearts of audiences with an expressive devising of a drat story. The scenic coldness of Minnesota, the snow-covered roadways, and the artsy inner decorations feel homespun—setting it as a story about connections and interconnections, a society in which we are all deeply connected in some form or the other. This visual aspect of Fargo exemplifies the heart of the story and the execution by Joel (and Ethan) Coen leaves you with a vintage feeling, maybe nostalgic for lovers of plays, prose, and poetry.

Since its inception, Fargo has gained popularity for the subtle and humorous treatment of a hard-hitting story that is somewhat close to the lives of the Coens. It doesn’t feel distorted or blurry at any time, although it maintains a distant look into the lives of the personas, whilst hovering into the periphery of these characters—so contrasting and so animated, each with a reason to move on. Throughout the movie, the Coens keep the screenplay tight, with the execution just right packaging it into a well-played out crime drama that has the right ambience, the right atmosphere, the right performances, and the right direction.

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Charming amidst glooms, Fargo is a parody of crime and satires the silent world of criminals. It is lyrical, almost too classy to be termed as a thriller and bears resemblance to the prose writing of Charles Dickens—detailed, structured, soothing, and rhythmic—and the drama of William Shakespeare—ironic, dramatic, humorous, amusing, and clever. What we get in turn is a true modern day gem.

Main Tera Hero (2014) – Heroism

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“After Krrish 3, there’s Kiss 3 now!” Rajpal Yadav.

David Dhawan is back with his illogical, slapstick comedy that would never really make sense but it does promise entertainment in an ample dose. The King of Comedy has a string of disappointments to his name since Partner hit the screens in 2007, but with the father-son duo combining for the first time, Main Tera Hero suddenly feels different to David Dhawan’s staple flicks. The keyword is feel because Main Tera Hero isn’t different, in reality, to what we’ve associated with David Dhawan. It’s the same treatment of a mindless saga going on and on with a feel good climax, which is always welcomed, but when we have been fed with such movies for 25 years, one does beg to question the point in all of this.

Main Tera Hero is a story of Seenu (Varun Dhawan)—the archetypical reprise of the countless characters Govinda has helmed in his days as the Comedy King. With an array of whacky, mindless characters present to add some eccentric one-liners, some that are hilarious, others that are cheap and of the bare kind, the movie a paraded parody of Dhawan’s own style of filmmaking. Main Tera Hero is nothing more than an overstretched remake of a Tamil movie (Kandireega) having some shots of brilliant comedy, yet an overtly stupid movie relying on the quirkiness of the various characters that we have been watching since our childhood.

To call it a Varun Dhawan show wouldn’t be inaccurate. David Dhawan does his job aptly in establishing Varun’s image as the next masaledaar superstar of Bollywood. Keeping that in mind, he gives all the space to Varun to stretch his muscles, show off his style, imitate Govinda, and carry along the eccentricity of Salman Khan in what is a mixture of all jokes put together in one movie to serve as Varun Dhawan’s image building project. The star cast gives a nostalgic feel, with Anupam Kher, Shakti Kapoor, Rajpal Yadav, Raju Kher, Manoj Pahwa, and the likes incensing the movie with a nostalgic call from the past, and typical as it is, the movie is nothing but a relived version of the partnership between David Dhawan and Govinda in a new era. Old wine, new bottle, and such mumbo-jumbo.

The actors paired opposite to Varun Dhawan, Ileana d’Cruz as Sunaina and Nargis Fakhri as Ayesha, have nothing substantial to do than provoke the testosterone of some horny passenger in this exhibition about heroism. One could even call Ileana the hanger in the wardrobe because that’s what she is! She does need to rethink her career decisions because after Barfi (2012), Ileana has been doing these slapstick comedies where she’s been nothing more than an eye candy. Whenever she did open her mouth, it was cringe-worthy. On the other hand, Nargis Fakhri did have a better role, the comedy and all, than Ileana, but the stony, yet seductive expressions of Fakhri would work well in enhancing her status as a siren, but does nothing to her as an actor. What she did in Madras Café (2013) was commendable; what does here, minus some funny scenes, is just showing off what she has.

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After consecutive urban Rom-Coms, Main Tera Hero is akin to vintage Bollywood Cinema of the 90s and earlier part of last decade. I liked it more than Bewakoofiyaan (2014), which isn’t saying a lot because the movie isn’t really good, but that’s not why it was made, was it? Barring the brilliant verses by Saurabh Shukla, some hilarious dialogues and scenes, and of course, Varun Dhawan’s typical personification of the Bollywood superstar, Main Tera Hero is a futile movie, a ridiculous madcap by David Dhawan that is not intriguing. It’s okay if you have free time and wish to revisit David Dhawan’s vision of cinema, but if you have anything better to do, just sip the coffee.

Chungking Express (1994) – The Complexities of Being Human

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Cast

Cop 663 – Tony Chiu Wai Leung
Faye – Faye Wong
Cop 223 – Takeshi Kaneshiro
Woman in Blonde Wig – Brigitte Lin
Air Hostess – Valerie Chow
Manager of the Café – Chen Jinquan

Imagine a city with a robustness of an industrial menace scattered with people from various cultures and races; imagine the crowd making it impossible to breathe the air of divinity. Imagine yet again—feeling lost and lonely around the branches of this unforgiving dystopia, or now, imagine just once more being in Wong Kar Wai’s world of Hong Kong through his vision unifying with his imagination, and his unraveling of life in Asia’s city of dreams… Two allegorical stories wrapped in one film, Chungking Express expresses the cold and distant nature of Hong Kong. People confined within the physical throngs with an ethereal ambiguity—fighting for their own space, yet lost in the emptiness that is truly within this world. This very unforgiving lust of the city to gulp within every micro emotion flying takes the stage for an abstruse drama from a filmmaker who has created his own niche as a master of storytelling.

Two men in uniform, Cops 223 and 663, face the same predicament—floating in love and tragedy. Both with their eyes set on finding solace. Seeking a companion to share their life with, to give love, and receive some in return, both these cops find somebody, but what comes with that somebody is hardly what they bargained for. Cop 223 finds a companion in an underworld woman, while Cop 663 receives redemption through a free-spirited intrigue; quirky, eccentric, and adorable.

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Chungking Express features Wong Kar Wai’s hyperkinetic camera movement, angles, and uniquely executed shots building a bizarre and anticipatory feeling in the viewer. The burry motion images used appropriately and the magnificent utilization of a pause-play, background time lapse reveal the psychology of the characters in a far more convincing manner—using it as a vehicle to express the emotions of the movie through smooth images and filming. That would, of course, only compliment the overall flow of the movie if the movie was backed by a strong storyline and astute execution, which hardly needs to be exemplified for Wong Kar Wai’s unique presentation of a dysfunctional mystery is rich as a story and effective as a film.

Complex characters, real world, real events, and simple stories; the motto has always been the same for Wong Kar Wai. Using the same formula, a second nature for the director, Chungking Express has distinct, multi-layered characters that resemble real-life people giving it a tangible feel that is backed significantly by some of the subplots like the drug smuggling, the method they use, and the underworld mafia at a bigger scale joined together by the emotional vulnerabilities and hollowness of the central characters at its intrinsic core. The lead characters in the movie, both of them, go through the same problem, but in a different world, with a different standpoint. It’s a problem everybody goes through in some form. The perspectives may vary, but the nub of the problem barely does. The only facet that could separate the two personalities would be the inherent desire that forces them act in their own ways—mild as it may seem, subtle as it may appear, but it surely carries a mammoth of sentimental force behind, which is what Wong Kar Wai illustrates rather coldly and accurately in putting across the lives of the characters on the screen.

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A movie such as Chungking Express, a different mystery all together, is another color in the world of filmmaking that needs to be cherished and decorated. For World Cinema, it’s matchless, it’s a gem. While not remotely possible for a movie as erratic, layered, and whimsical as Chungking Express to garner a universal acceptance, but it has in many ways and that’s the barometer of true success for the movie. As if it’s not obvious, Chungking Express is damn good—a brute cinema that may appear experimental for global audiences, but is nothing more than a pragmatic and ideological, even minuscule form of cinema for somebody like Wong Kar Wai.

The story of does dip a little somewhere in the middle. The second story gets a bit slow just before the ending, but the first story is a practical cinematic delight. Whilst the second story is the real story and is much deeper and mature exploring human sentiments, the first one might be a little more entertaining even though it’s surficial. The contrast would be in the dramatics; the first one is closer to a fast-paced thriller, whilst the second one is a profound drama on life. Combine the two as fables on life and living of life in Hong Kong, and you have a metaphorical account of what constitutes of life in its fluid state of fragmentation.

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An exclusive presentation, Chungking Express is a brutal demolishment of urban life and an epic from the director. Twenty years has passed since Chungking Express hit the screens, and with time, it has only grown as a movie, a stylish form of instinctive cinema that remains as puzzling today as it was back then. Wong Kar Wai has perhaps toppled Chungking Express with his platonic In the Mood for Love (2000), but this remains the original classic from a filmmaker who neither treats cinema as a commerce or art—for him, cinema is just cinema; the revealing of a simple story through the lens of characters who are no different than the ones you would find in real life. For a fan of World Cinema, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. Stylish, raw, and deep—Chungking Express in a nutshell.

Jhola (2014) – Revisiting Darkness

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When I first got to watch the trailer of Jhola, I was far from impressed. The trailer was rather poor and the big trailer moments appeared as sequences of melodramatic loudness. I don’t quite know what provoked me to watch Jhola. Perhaps it could be the short story from Krishna Dharabashi, or simply the drought of good cinema in theaters. I did watch it and as predictable as it may sound, it was the best decision I took on that day.

Jhola is a short story adapted on film by Yadavkumar Bhattarai that deals with the issue of Sati pratha, which would typically be a windowed woman immolating herself in her deceased husband’s funeral pyre—a tradition that was shamelessly prevalent from the 1700s until early 1900s in Nepal and India. Kanchi (Garima Pant) is the window through which Krishna Dharabashi reveals the sanctity of such inhumane customs of the era. Forced to burn in the pyre of her dead husband, Jhola tells the story of a boy, Ghanshyam (Suraj Nepal), observing the cruelty of human hypocrisy and his adventures groping with wrath and the pangs of society in the name of God and religion.

The movie opens with an unknown person (played by Krishna Dharabasi himself) coming across a bag left by a stranger at his house containing a manuscript that becomes the gateway into the story of the movie. While the opening sequences are unnatural and cringe worthy, once we enter the world of Jhola, the 1920s, the movie narrates a gripping story about a typical rural Nepali family plagued by circumstances and cornered by tradition. I was amazed by the tight and precise screenplay (by Deepal Aalok) of this hard-hitting story, which doesn’t deviate or go haywire as many Nepali movies tend to after a while. The execution is silky, almost artistic, capturing the rustiness of Nepal during that period, and each scene, or sequence takes the overall actions to the peak with a nice flow and a rhythm that is refreshing to watch.

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Jhola’s story isn’t merely that, a story. The overall presentation of the movie captures the reality of Nepali life—covering many aspects of society from the dreaded Sati pratha to the caste and class based discrimination as well as the tradition of slavery in a starkly male-dominated society. Jhola also hints at the custom of inheritance and the subsequent causation of quarrels and rivalries due to dissatisfaction in distribution of ancestral properties—rather embarrassing. While telling a story, a beautiful story that is tragic and triumphant at the same time, Jhola scatters tidbits of Nepali society that is both nostalgic to watch, for an admirer of history, as well as through-provoking for those carrying sociological imaginations. These ingredients together make Jhola a lyrical rendering of the history of Nepal—its times and traditions.

Many times, one would feel, perhaps, the performances could have been subdued and toned down. It can get a bit too gaudy at times. But that would be nit-picking. Some minor inconsistencies here and there aside, Jhola catches the essence of storytelling and articulates a story that is true and touching, and I use articulate specifically because the entire movie is a lyrical ballad, as close to any you could find from Nepal. Consequently, the direction and leadership of Yadavkumar Bhattarai has to be applauded for giving us this tiny little wonder that made me joyous because it’s something Nepali Cinema has been lacking and here, we have a fine little example of good national cinema. In an age when many Nepali movies bite the seesaw dust mainly due to poor writing, dry stories, and amateur execution, Jhola is a welcome change—a breeze amidst the scorching humidity of a dearth of good cinema.

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A rural, historical social drama, Jhola is arguably the best Nepali feature movie to have seen sunlight since Uma (2013) and a movie that Nepali Cinema has most desperately needed and here, it has received. It’s not perfect—nor is it a magnum opus of an artist, but you cannot deny its artistry and the delightful way it charms the viewer and aid in raising the consciousness of people on the issue, especially the younger generation from urban centers who may yet be unaware of the pangs of Sati pratha, life as a Nepali during those ages, and above all the social relevance of the story even to this day. Jhola is rustic and expressive with a strong story and a beautiful adaptation of the story—a warm and commendable job by all associated with Jhola.

Noah (2014) – This Ship Has Sailed

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Darren Aronofsky travels to the Biblical age with Noah revisiting the Genesis flood narrative from The Old Testament and the construction of the greatest marvel known to existence, Noah’s Ark. With the sole ambition of saving the last traces of humanity—Noah and his family—and every animal possible in what is a total cleansing process banishing all that is evil and starting a fresh, the whole of existence, the Creator sends a colossal flood wiping away evil from the face of the Earth. Only the good-hearted Noah along with his family and the innocent animals survive to arrive at the laps of Mount Ararat. Mythical sciences around the world have suggested many flood narratives threatening to end the world and existence, as we understand. Noah’s Ark, being the most popular of such myths, becomes the subject for Aronofsky’s masterwork.

The descendent of Seth, the white one, Noah, played by Russell Crowe, pledges to save the soul of Creation by building an Ark with instructions from the Creator itself—a measure to survive the gargantuan flooding that would last 370 days. Whilst building the Ark, Noah comes across various impediments and sees the nature of humanity as corrupt, selfish, and egoistic. Facing opposition from descendants of Cain, the evil one, and with the aid of some giant, rocky troll-like creatures that are the Fallen Angels called The Watchers, Noah completes the task, but the real conflict—the real poison—is within him and the members of his family. Noah is a legend of inner viciousness more than outer conflict. It denotes the nature of human beings—the vile, ugly layer within the beautiful face—contrasting it to the beauty of every other organism in this planet that has more goodwill and purity inside than humans, the most conscious of all beings, yet the most derailed and desolate under whom creation has become the allegory of Hell.

Noah-Screencaps-Movie-Wallpaper-HDAs a movie, Noah has a lot of positives; it’s a must watch for the sheer imaginative visuals and to experience the mythical world in what is one of the most compelling, visually abundant cinemas that is a cinematic experience and a story relived. The time-lapse sequences, first of the diffusion of actuality around Noah’s Ark and second, the creation of creation are two of the grandest, visually spectacular pieces of optical reality on the screen. Subsequently, the special effects and the cinematography overwhelm the viewer. Not in a negative way, but the overdrive of the ocular grandeur stunts the story—making Noah a thrilling experience but a movie not as captivating as a story.

In essence, Noah fails to create an entrancing story—a compelling drama. Aronofsky avoids the provocative questions and emphasizes on the great escapade, yet as a story and a morally rich issue, Noah comes across superficial, with a flat story that is predictable and under the gimmick of some of the most tantalizing visuals in cinema. Stretching at 138 minutes, the pace is rather erratic, with it moving very slow in some occasions and progressing rapidly at other times. In many parts of the movie, the enchanting graphics and cinematography saved the movie from being a boring ride because it does tend to get groggy. The exchanges between Noah and his family, mostly his wife Naameh, played by Jennifer Connelly, gets too melodramatic and to the stage of annoying the viewers, especially the bickering pre-climax sequences.

If you ignore the inconsistencies in the story, the characters are all over the place. Whom am I supposed to sympathize with here? Noah comes across extremely bullheaded, a man with a superiority complex making it difficult to distinguish if God is a villain and a sadist enjoying the mayhem it created in the world. One could argue that Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone)—an animal eater—is the ultimate agent of the Devil and needs to perish from this beautiful creation of the Creator, but why would hoards of people deserve the fate? Is God not the all-compassionate one?

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Moving to Noah’s family, his children, especially Ham (Logan Lerman), is rather a silent assassin, but the character terribly disappoints as Aronofsky builds and builds the personality of Ham—only for Ham to become a recluse at the end, who just doesn’t seem to be loved by his parents or wanted by anybody else. Could you really blame him? If at all, I felt for Ham because of how he seemed to be all lost and isolated amongst his own. In some way, the grand—the greater good concept—of Noah falls into a stifle trauma and a vengeful fight between family members sharing different ideologies, which is ironic considering the stakes of all of Creation’s existence was at the mercy of this one family and one man, Noah. The measure of significance makes the trifle conflicts between the family members and their scorn for Noah for doing what he had to do even more shameful because at the end, each comes across as a self-centered individual and how could the Creator decide that such people deserve the dignity of saving the world? It just makes the entire movie pointless and a gigantic waste of resources. It just fails to evoke any empathy from the viewer. The Creator “making” Noah do what he had to do is another laugh worthy motivation. Everybody is a sinner, so we should kill everybody—except animals! The makers don’t do the concept any favors with the plotting of the story and the sequences leaving much to be desired.

Apart from the spectacular visuals, Noah has only one other redeeming quality—Russell Crowe’s performance. Although the character is very controversial, Crowe does his absolute best in putting out a show that is among his best works. As a torn father, a loyal husband, an obedient and humble descendent of Seth, and the chosen one of God to carry out the mission, Russell Crowe grows with his character and his internal pain shows up on every fiber of his being. In fact, Crowe as Noah is the only thing that works in the movie apart from the dazzling CGI, which is sad because the theme of this story had much more in it than Aronofsky could deliver at the grandest stage.

2014-Noah-WideToo patchy of a movie, too long, plodding at times, and a disappointment, Noah could have been so much more. It’s not a patch on Aronofsky’s previous works. It is pretentious and preposterous, and if not for Russell Crowe, the core of the movie could have been devastated due to the shockingly erratic handling of the overall story and the movie. The VFX, CGI, and the incredible underlining of Iceland save the movie from being a damp squib, but for a film admirer, Noah simply doesn’t deliver. I’d still recommend watching it for the enchanting experience, but don’t go expecting a story that would match up to the technology because it quite frankly lags way behind. A let down…

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) – The Romantic Age

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Filmed in the exotic laps of Spain, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an ode to art. It resembles the sceneries of Barcelona, the mood of artists portraying their art, and has a warm and sultry feeling. Being chaotic and serene, at the same time, Woody Allen pulls off this gem with his usual vivacity offing a thorough exploration of the emotional rollercoaster Vicky and Cristina pass through in the breezy summer of Barcelona. Vicky Cristina Barcelona compiles the ideal of European Cinema, with an exquisite atmosphere that is soothing to the psyche and gives you a heartfelt, chirpy vive when the end credits roll. It’s unlike your run-of-the mill romantic dramas that are so associated with Hollywood. On the contrary, Vicky Cristina… is a platonic drama that serves as homage to the spiritual air of Europe—only carrying Allen’s trademark stamp, the mood of swing, and the height of romanticism.

The narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) introduces us to two contrasts, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)—one a student of Catalan Studies, the other an amateur filmmaker. Completely different in ideologies and philosophies, Vicky and Cristina explore life and love through the lens of an artist, an erratic man, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Both fall in love with this riddle, and when his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) makes an appearance, things don’t go as smoothly, or as awkwardly as both had imagined…

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a bohemian story, with an unconventional charm—giving it a humorous and a sumptuous subject matter. The treatment from Woody Allen capturing Catalan Art mixed with a soothing background score comprising of the wonderful hymns of the Spanish Guitar; Vicky Cristina becomes a joy—an arresting episode of exploring morality, desire, and the grand question of what is right and what is wrong. Hidden beneath these heavy introspective themes is a light humor circling the essence of Vicky Cristina, with a witty and delicious screenplay authenticating the artistic vibe of the movie… The unpredictable characters—appearing as free spirits—all of them share an uncanny pattern, which works beautifully in making Vicky Cristina an absurdist cinema groping with the flux of emotions.

Mirroring European Cinema with its rich ambience and a minimalistic style of storytelling, not to ignore a colorful way of filming the movie, the story itself is mighty interesting, but the top drawer would have to be the fantabulous screenplay that makes Vicky Cristina such an engrossing movie. The unfolding of this zealous tale and the subsequent drama becomes a joy to witness and makes one feel warm from within—a little bit giddy watching the eccentric summer romance. With that said, the story does dip somewhere in the middle. Immediately after the arrival of Maria Elena, the art of the movie pegs a predictable theme, with the pace dropping—hovering around clichéd angles and a plot twist much explored in romantic dramas. Although, the symmetry revives the movie after the dip, especially the sequences after Cristina drops the bomb, the following delusion of Vicky complimented by the uneven nature of Juan Antonio builds a buoyant climax—one filled with familiar traits of the characters and a bittersweet romantic ending.

To put it into perspective, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of Woody Allen’s most artistic attempts. Like art on a palate, the movie has tinges of sparks and a color making it a contradictory saga that is polarizing as well as a pulsating take on the puzzle that is life and the riddle that are emotions. In a way, Vicky Cristina critics life and no matter how muddled one may seem, parallel to a painting, life does have some sort of a decoration. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, people end up following their elected path—whether they like it or not, that’s another thing! After all, what could they do? It’s in their nature!

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Passionate, captivating, akin to a magnum drama, Vicky Cristina manages to touch your heart and propels you to taste the wine of Spanish Romanticism. The performances leave an impression, and the whole movie is like watching sculpture unfold on the screen in all its diversities. One of Woody Allen’s finest movies and an extremely underrated gem, this film is a class apart and one movie that certainly would make you jubilant. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in essence, is poetry in motion and a movie most definitely worthy of decorating in your video library.

Title Image Credit – Deviant Art

Blue Jasmine (2013) – From New York With Love

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Woody Allen’s 44th full-fledged directorial venture brings us to Blue Jasmine, the unofficial modern day adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine here mirroring the enigmatic charms of Blanche Du Bois from Tennessee William’s legendary play. As the deluded, past-her-pomp socialite who runs bankrupt after the end of her conjugal bliss and her husband, Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) suicide, both coinciding, a troubled Jasmine goes to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in hopes of recouping her identity and perhaps starting a new life…

A basic story told in a simplistic style, Woody Allen contrasts sequences from Jasmine’s life as the tip-top socialite in New York, wife to a philandering financial expert, to her present life under the influence of anxiety, panic attacks, and derangements. The sequences of Jasmine’s much decorated social life from her past juxtapose on screen with her present life living with her working class sister in San Francisco—much away from her aristocratic lifestyle and social circle in New York. Making it an appealing way of telling this story, the drastic spiral from an elitist to an impoverished woman sets the stage for this quintessential drama, with Allen giving it an artistic touch similar to what we witness in A Streetcar Named Desire. Although similar in broad strokes, Blue Jasmine does have an altered outlook pinned on the renaissance of Jasmine as an individual—jammed in her own psychological trap of vanity, deceit, and hypocrisy—as opposed to the undercurrent sexuality alive in Streetcar.

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Quite simply, Blue Jasmine is an easy interpretation of a mumbled woman in her own jumbled world. Going back to Streetcar, the movie subtly represents that era, with a macho rich husband having loose affairs, while the wife is the loyal and pretentious socialite unaware, or at least pretending to be, of her husband’s exploit. Once misfortune strikes, her life falls apart in free fall: no college degree, no special talent, and no computer skills—a nice satire there—and nothing except a regal, glossy look, which would be all the more perfect for a man to have in a woman, especially those with social responsibilities… As such, Jasmine has nowhere to go, except for the place she loathes.

Blue Jasmine maintains a vibrant aloofness between the audience and the character of Jasmine. The manner of sequencing and the way it’s filmed, you’d find an invisible tablet between the viewer and the actions in the story, especially revolving Jasmine. The movie projects a clandestine charm of isolation that slowly peels off as the minutes pass by; ultimately, revealing the obvious but in an insistent, engaging style, which would augur down to the wits and mastery from Woody Allen. From such a simple premise, Allen develops a complicated psychological study of not just one character but the array of characters present, where you’d almost be confronted with the idea of the story divulging as social criticism through the lens of the social classes, political ideologies, stereotypes, and the principle of self-identity and personal space. As a story, Blue Jasmine manages to say a lot about social phenomena through little detailing and suggestive nuances, and those little detailing and suggestions make the movie a rich study—a valiant film from Woody Allen after a long time.

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The camerawork, more so the composition of shots and of course the overall cinematography deserves a pat for creating a distinct visual story. The utilization of dynamic spatial relationships between the characters, especially Jasmine and Ginger and also Jasmine and Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s brute fiancé—the Stanley Kowalski of Blue Jasmine—the spatial placements and camera angles distinguish the pedigree of these characters from one another, especially Jasmine from the rest. Nonetheless, despite being a part of this circle, Jasmine’s undermining viewpoint of Ginger’s entire existence creates a silent tension between all the three personalities. Allen doesn’t show them until it reaches breaking point, yet the silent killer is present in most of the scenes featuring the three characters (Jasmine, Chili, Ginger).

Cate Blanchett as Jasmine has been acclaimed at every corner of the film universe, and perhaps deservedly so. Her demeanor as Jasmine is uncannily real, from her make-up, physical mannerisms to her jabbering as the deluded, knocked out Jasmine. Chili’s mate, Eddie (played by Max Casella) asks Jasmine if she’s usually spaced out. Very relevant question because that’s how Blanchett proposes herself as Jasmine—mentally erratic and zoned out in her own world mumbling about all that’s gone wrong in her life. By the time she loses everything, she doesn’t even have her own child as a redeeming facet of her discolored and largely disfigured life, which we see so often in her face—no colors and charms—except for her dressing sense and conduct, which is all elegant and with a royal touch. In all that’s said about Blanchett, the entire cast makes this movie a rich presentation with natural performances. Understated, as it may seem, the cast of Blue Jasmine portray their skins with pragmatic natural instincts complimenting the world around the story and the lives and times of these characters.

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Ultimately, Blue Jasmine works with a possibility—a possibility of a woman with nothing except the stature of her husband as her sole belonging and identity. Before him and after him, she stands as a naked figure lost in the world with myriad of complications. Always seeking the easy way out, Jasmine is a contradictory figure where one is lost whether to feel pity on her state, or to laugh at her inanity. Heartfelt in execution, with brilliant art direction, storytelling, and a subtle way of cinematography, Blue Jasmine is a thunderbolt wrapped in silence. An extremely rich movie with powerful performances, it slowly grows in the heart as tragic degeneration of a dysfunctional woman, one-of-a-kind, in such a predicament that not even she can help herself…

Don’t Look Now (1973) – Nothing Is What It Seems

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British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story by the same title (or Not After Midnight in England). Comprising of a mysterious, much jiggled theme, Don’t Look Now is an arresting supernatural occult thriller with a chilling climax—perhaps the eeriest climaxes in the genre of horror and thriller. The plain showing of the chilly town of Venice, reminiscent of the gothic age, and the narrative of the story splashes uncanny resemblance to the atmosphere projected in the story—mystical and paradoxical.

John Baxtor (Donald Sutherland) is a restoration expert, an architect assigned to restore an old Church in Venice. His wife Laura, played by the ravishing Julie Christie, accompanies him to Venice away from the misgivings and tragedy in London. Having lost their daughter, the couple is immersed into sadness and a heartbreak that remains subdued. That is, until, Laura comes across two Scottish sisters Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania)—Heather being a Psychic. Once in contact with the sisters, the lives of both Laura and John spiral into ambiguity—into the lap of destiny and fate, not exactly kind and blissful—rather murky, torrid, and surreal.

Don’t Look Now is notoriously popular for the eyebrow raising lovemaking scene between Sutherland and Christie. In many ways and much significant to the contextual aspect of the theme, the lovemaking scene between the two desolated couple is the only time the two act as a couple and symbolizes the vacancies in their lives. The love they make represents the final regeneration of their psychics—what would remain as the final act of intimacy for the two before their lives twist and turn around in the brooding ambience of Venice. The scene is starkly edited with back and forth cuts from nudity and intimacy to sensuality and desire injecting the absurdity of their lives—free, open, and one as souls, yet split into a void by destiny… Don’t Look Now is simply mayhem in silence—rich amidst poverty.

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If there is a movie where the atmosphere on the screen matches the ominousness of the story, Don’t Look Now is the movie. The horror of the isolated canals, the silent tension surrounding the night and the foggy days—every breeze of air carrying a menacing message—the aloof environment of the secluded town of Venice; Don’t Look Now captures agony in the atmosphere giving it a mystical feel of desolation, of gloom, and of a sadistically impending apocalypse… As a movie, right from the beginning until the end, it is artistic in exhibition, chilling in procession, uncompromising in its tone, and unnerving in the emotions it invokes in viewers.

Contrary to other horrors, the movie encourages active participation whilst provoking the viewer to decode the narrative as a cryptographer. The story in itself is somewhat of an enigma. With constant flashbacks and flash-forwards to the past and the future and the present intermingling somewhere in between, the chronicling of the lives of the couple is shown in a distinctive, limited style. Roeg manages to keep the viewers engrossed, whilst revealing as little as possible—showing events from the point-of-view of the two characters, mainly John, and keeping the mystery tight and intact until the end. When the viewers receive the denouement, the whole tale comes off with tremendous magic and appeal—leaving the viewer perplexed and in admiration for the style of filming, the story, the natural personification of Sutherland and Christie as John and Laura, and the overbearing climax that spikes the viewer completely.

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The story also uses some of the smartest foreshadowing and buildup in films of any genre to arrive to the peak of the movie, the climax. It’s so unpredictable, and when the story does take a U-turn in the climax leading to the finale, the application of intricate foreshadowing seems so simple, but ever more powerful and ultimately, it makes the movie one rich story in film and a tremendous feat in cinema. The premonitions John had been sensing was pointing towards his own existence and every minor event strengthened the sensation. From the first picture of, what appears, a small girl dressed in a red raincoat in a Church until returning to the same place where it all was to end, or the vision of watching his wife proceed to a procession, the story was peeling right in front of John’s eyes and it wasn’t about anybody else, but his own self… Startling is one term to describe the story, the style of filming, and the treatment from Roeg.

The way the movie is shot, cinematically, brings the story to life taking it closest to reality. Cameraperson Anthony Richmond demonstrates visual artistry romancing with the camera, whilst the Art Director (Giovanni Soccol) creates a mini world that validates the mood of the story and the rhythm of art that the movie becomes—a direct collaboration of the trio (director, DP, art director). Whilst on it, the editing is one of the sensational aspects of the movie and is much inspired from the school of Alfred Hitchcock. The layering, constant cuts, flash-backs, flash-forwards, the transitions, and the sequences leading from the beginning until the end—not to ignore the subtle, almost non-linear plot advancement—compliments the mood of the movie, dull and gloomy, creating a depressive feeling within the observer. All of it combined—the shot composition and overall photography, the foggy editing, and the piercing background score—they implant an eye-shutting prophylactic feeling of a catastrophe in the viewers. Chilly, spooky, and bizarre would be understatements.

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Exotic in mystery, painfully displeasing, unforgivingly cruel, Don’t Look Now is a classic—an exemplary depiction of art in cinema. It is the pinnacle of story development, telling, and a thrilling escapade into the mysteries of life and death, the occult, and the horrors of misery. Containing layers of themes and symbols with sacred and secret suggestions, the movie is identical to the visual Bible of Psychological Thrillers and Occult Mysteries—written beyond words by du Maurier and adapted in style by Alan Scott and Chris Bryant on the screen. It remains one of the classiest and richest stories told on film; this is filmmaking at its best and stands tall, even today, as one of the finest movie adaptations of a book, East or West. Utterly numbing, Don’t Look Now defines spine chilling and blurs the line between reality and the beyond—romancing tragedy with the absurd, physics with metaphysics—it is Art on the screen, atonement off the screen…