The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – Proving the Absurd

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson) opened to a negative response in 2005. Quite contrary, what impressed me was the baffling concept of demons and Satan reaching the court of law to prove or rather disprove whether Emily was indeed possessed, or her state was a case of neuropsychological disorder. It does sound strange that a fact-based institution would accept a case on spirits and ether.

It happens, and apparently, it is based on true events about a parish priest exorcising a possessed teenager when medical science was proving to be of no help. The case is of Anneliese Michel of course, a young German girl exorcised in 1976 leading to her alleged death. The date 1976 becomes important because we’re looking back at medical science 40 years ago. Surely, not as sophisticated.

The irony in this courtroom drama lies in our two lawyers, an agnostic as the defendant and a man of faith in the opposition – proving how demons don’t exist and what Emily experienced was, “merely,” psychosomatic.

The two attorneys go back and forth with Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) trying to prove the silliness of the case and Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) trying to prove how supernatural forces did have a say in Emily’s death (played by Jennifer Carpenter). Flashback sequences show the horrors Emily passed through – her physical state eerily resembling the crushing state of Regan from The Exorcist (1973). William Freidkin’s Exorcist is an explicit tale on possession where the exorcism itself is the highlight of the movie. Emily’s story focuses on the rationalizing of exorcism and the existence of demons—in the house of logic no less.

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The accused, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t concerned with his impending fate. All he wants to do is tell Emily’s story and reveal how forces beyond our understanding exist in a realm that separates this world from the ethereal world. The courtroom drama scenes, hence, are tight and tense. They’re convincing.  The two attorneys know their trade and go back and forth to prove what they stand for as professionals. Thomas doesn’t let his faith interfere, nor does Brunner let her agnostic beliefs interfere.

The flashback scenes, although not abundant, is spooky. You wonder if these demons actually existed, we’d be in a chaotic world with such vengeful beings in control. Yet, if we take a rational standpoint and accept it all as neuropsychological hallucinations, we’d be better relieved for there are ways to control and subside these symptoms.

As a viewer, I wouldn’t be able to say which party is closer to the truth. The flashback scenes make me tilt towards the father, but how logical is the pseudoscience of possession? Occurrences that are difficult to explain seem to find solace in outright dismissals. When such a claim is disputed in court, sometimes you have to wonder – how the court could meddle with an inconceivable truth.

Despite a hot-potato issue, The Exorcism of Emily Rose makes sense and is well written, well shot, and honestly portrayed. Bravura performances from the starcast only help in convincing us that even though the tale mayn’t be true, it’s not untrue either. There is a grey area somewhere – some things aren’t tangible, but just because they aren’t, that doesn’t mean they really aren’t.

As Father Moore says, it’s not about what is true or untrue. Whether the dead really die away or Anti-Christ forces lurk in the corridor. His only mission is to tell her (Emily’s) story and through her – to warn humans that Anti-Christ forces exist, whilst also comforting people with the presence of Virgin Mary and her divinity.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose convinces because of that. The courtroom drama and procedural only give it a legitimate claim and testimonies by experts on the area pose a hypothetical scenario of the existence of a spiritual world.

The movie has its shares of thrills and scares – moments of madness and fright. It makes you think from the perspective of Emily’s family. And, asks you a question: what do you do when science fails? Do we go for suggestive therapy, as the exorcism is most likely to be? Or, do we accept defeat and let somebody close to us die away without a proper trial?

It’s an individualistic question – one that may confront us. Not in the same manner of course. However, there are many facets in our lives where we may have to abandon rational explanation and go for a route that is irrational, unseen – enamoured with consolation nonetheless.

The movie plays along these lines: trying to prove the unknowable by using logic. And, maybe in doing so, we’re giving ourselves too much credit by assuming there is a logical answer to every question.

On balance, Emily Rose is a person who degenerated into a vile object. The sequences that show her as an object are disturbing, yet compelling to watch. The courtroom exchanges between the characters are relishing, witty, and tense. Amid all of this, there is a feeling of legitimacy in the case and the unfolding doesn’t feel out of place in the court of justice.

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Ethical dilemma and morality also stand in defence. The long-debated philosophy of ethics finds ample references and lives as a character on its own. There are discussions about legality and ethics. In any profession, ethics is subjective, law imperative. Emily Rose chose an ethical path sacrificing her for the greater good, and you’d feel – ultimately, ethics does prevail over forced reinforcement of law because one is an exterior precondition, the other is an inherent choice.

You need to approach The Exorcism of Emily Rose with an open mind. If you do so, you’ll enjoy this debate on life and death, especially in a tangible stage designed for arguments. Only this time, matter seems to submerge with spirit – giving us one fine movie that engages us and makes us feel for Emily Rose.

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Repulsion (1965) – Evil Behind Closed Doors

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“I must get this crack mended.”

When we call Roman Polanski one of the best living filmmakers, we might be wrong because he has a case in being the greatest living filmmaker today. He is after all the man behind many great movies and such a plethora only warrants him a place at the apex of legendary 21st century filmmakers.

Repulsion is a story of a beautiful schizophrenic, Carole Ledoux – about how she faces her schizoid self when her sister, Helen and Helen’s fiancé, Michael go vacationing in Italy. The beautiful Catherine Deneuve, who went on to act in Luis Buñuel ’s all-time classic Belle de Jour (1967) two years later, stars as Carole supported by the elegant Yvonne Furneaux as Helen and iconic British actor, Ian Hendry as Helen’s blunt boyfriend.

Repulsion is Polanski’s first English film and his second feature following the Polish film, Knife in the Water that came out in 1962. Part of the Apartment Trilogy that started with Repulsion, reached heights with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and concluded with The Tenant (1976), the trio has the same fantastic horror-esque scenario—creating a claustrophobic environment that mirrors the latent and deranged mindsets of the main characters.

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When we first meet Carole in a beauty clinic where she works, we observe a beautiful woman lost between the actualities of the world and the illusion created by the fabricated makeup. The mask conceals the true self beneath the vivre of external glow. Only though, time is a constant factor and when the time comes, no makeup can hide the cracks in you, within you, part of you.

When Carole walks back home from work, the melancholy in her face is apparent. Even when a young romantic follows her (John Fraser as Colin), pursues her, she doesn’t reciprocate as this Dame de L’Appartement is focused on the whirlwind within her mind. She’s a child who’s never grown up. The repeated motif of her family picture only fortifies this. Carole is isolated as we decipher from her family picture and she has never grown up to become a woman from the girl she was when the picture was taken, around the time, when trauma seems to have touched her for the first time.

The trepidation of the apartment she lives in, with her sexually hyperactive sister and a predator-type fiancé, only reminds her of the abuse she incurred as a child. This makes her contempt men—yet, most importantly, the pursuit of men whom she believes are only after her for her physical glory, not to soothe her emotional, vulnerable self that may be beyond the point of return.

Paradoxical layers shape schizophrenics as enigmatic and alluring beings, and Catherine Deneuve epitomizes this visceral charm with forlorn expressions. Her gaudy blonde hair, unprimed, forms a strong motif of hiding the cerebral cracks within her head. Under this bucolic spread of bright yellow, we find a dark mind—subjected to torture by her past experiences, and in the loneliness of the apartment, her demons come to the fore, wreaking havoc, ultimately destroying her innocence.

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In one of the eeriest scenes of the movie, Polanski creates subtle chaos by showing cracks rampaging through the apartment. Together with Carole’s hallucinations—of being raped by Michael, somebody who reminds her of her abusive father—the movie tickles the subconscious fears of Carole that come to life when she’s alone, slowly decaying like a dead rabbit that attracts flies. So does Carole, but she gravitates normal people towards her, yet she has no comprehension of what is normal and what is abnormal. The line vanished long ago, and as with creepy demons, it’s only surfacing now that she’s coming face-to-face with her repressed sexuality, loathing of men, and loneliness that seems to be her only nature.

The apartment, in this part-surreal, part fantastical, and part noir, merely represents the state of Carole, a beautician who lives in a damp, rusty, and depleted flat. As Carole starts disintegrating into an almost nihilistic trance, she fantasizes her flat degenerating into a habitat for the wild.

As a complement, Polanski oversees use of drastic cinematic techniques to make sure that viewers feel the wrath within Carole. Told from a first-person narrative, the use of extreme close-ups of Carole’s eyes in the beginning to the wide mid shots following Carole down the streets to her apartment and within her apartment sets captures Carole’s polarizing mind—a ruptured state within and the feeling of seclusion despite being amidst buzzing London.

Yet, Carole is on the verge of breakdown and that is only the beginning of the nightmare she has been repressing until now. With the emergence of Colin, the clammy apartment’s isolation, and the ticking of the clock—Carole descends into a path of psychosis where all she wants is to be alone. The last thing she needs. She’s already lonely and when her fantasy, bottled-up sexual desires, disdain for sexuality, and a feeling of subjugation creeps in, Carole is like a frog swimming in lukewarm water, about to reach boiling point. When her mind turns up the heat, she enters a killing spree. She’d consider it self-defense. Others would suppose—acts of lunacy.

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Repulsion is uncomfortable and follows Carole in her descend to insanity. Polanski sets the mood for the audiences to be wrapped in horror, and in doing so; he presents a fundamental study of womanhood. Using tight angles to create a suffocating atmosphere, we get into the mind of Carole and that is a creepy experience in itself.

Violent, perverse, and primeval, Repulsion is one of the finest psychological thrillers. It’s almost nauseating at times. That’s not due to what we see on the screen, but how Polanski makes us feel using skintight photography, gripping storytelling, and by creating a dystopian environment. Enhancing all of this is the uncanny performance of Catherine Deneuve as Carole. Through her, we study human behavior under oppression, thereby analyzing the objectification of women and turning home into wilderness—as that seems to be pivotal in the movie.

Roman Polanski’s first English film is arguably his most comprehensive. It shows us why Polanski might be one filmmaker who can get right under your skin and dish out a psychological beating that is sure to leave you with a hangover long after it’s over. Repulsion is a classic.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – It’s a Beautiful Day

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An existentialist road movie from the master of crime does sound strange. But when it’s from a visionary, it tends to work out as Alice would substantiate. Sandwiched between Mean Streets (1973) and the cult Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese tried his hands on a low-budget feminist drama about life by peeking through the journey of a single-mother, her displaced son, and their adventures trying to earn a living and a slice of fame through austerity and honesty.

After her alcoholic husband (Billy Bush) passes away one mournful morning, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) has no support system. She has nowhere to go, nothing to do. A generic homemaker, Alice has spent most of her life under guidance of her parents and later her husband. Her only skill, per se, is music. But she has to cope with a new life, especially with her nagging pre-teen son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), her sole responsibility.

Alice decides to sell whatever’s left, keep the tidbits, and leave Socorro for Monterey to revive her singing career and presumably become the new Alice Fay. Yet, money doesn’t compromise and they’re forced to lodge in Phoenix. There she applies for jobs that require singing. For her, applying means knocking door-to-door offering her musical talent, but luck’s a hard bird to catch. With proper marketing, she does catch it, only for it to crumble down after her brief association with the suave, yet abusive husband of her next-door neighbor.

The mother and son flee again. This time, they reach Tucson. Lady luck strikes, Alice gets a job as a server at a fast food. It rolls smoothly there. She comes across peculiar characters, but hey–she’s working, she’s earning, and she has a wonderful son. Time rolls on for Alice until David (Kris Kristofferson) comes by. They fall in love, yadda, yadda. Again, Alice being the naïve country girl, she stumbles upon another setback, with her lover here. This time though, she doesn’t elope, but holds firm and continues her work.

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Alice is a bittersweet tale about the journey of a woman in an age when feminism was sharply rising. Scorsese picks an unassuming, simple woman to tell a story of a single-mother striving to survive, in a largely patriarchal society, with her son stuck within the four corners of a house. Perhaps, Scorsese added something of his own to the character of Tommy. By his own admission, Scorsese was an indoor child during his early days and spent much time watching TV and subconsciously learning the craft of filmmaking. There are good similarities between Martin Scorsese’s childhood and the childhood of Tommy, except he doesn’t live in nearby gangster town filled with mafias and wise guys. But, there are similarities…

Through this drama though, Scorsese previews the aftermath of tragedy for a housewife—who had no career of her own, not much in the name of property, and was all alone, with a young son, in a distant society. The story of Alice is about coping up and trying to create a niche for oneself. Alice and Tommy travel from here to there in search for a dignified life amidst strangers and demons. The purpose for Alice is to find work that would enable her and the son to live cozily, and would help her realize her childhood dream. In this small quest for dignity, they come across different people in different settings. Yet, they strive on together as candid buddies amid some amusing circumstances.

At the end, people do need support systems. All Alice is doing is seeking one—for her and for her son. And, Scorsese shows this with unwavering simplicity, a country charm, and unfiltered nobility. Alice doesn’t Live here Anymore is arguably the most underrated film from Scorsese, and throws a revealing reflection of what’s in store from the maverick filmmaker. It’s all easy to say that now 30 years after Alice, but for a select few, Roger Ebert comes to mind, they’d seen the legend of Scorsese before even Scorsese envisioned his role as an unparalleled storyteller.

Scorsese fans would no doubt love Alice for it’s unalike most Scorsese movies since then. It’s a refresher and I’d doubt many could guess that Alice came from Scorsese if they ignored the rolling titles, which serves Scorsese well. One of the criticisms against him have been lack of variety in his movies as opposed to Kubrick, Wilder, Spielberg, et al. Rather naïve to say that for people mistake his archetypical vision and stamp for lack of variety. He’s shown variety in plenty of movies, in diverse genres, Alice included.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a beauty. A gusty little story told with ease, the movie is warm, charming, and adorable just like the character of Alice. Ellen Burstyn carries the movie on her shoulders for which she deservedly won an Oscar for Best Actress, even though she’s known more for another classic, The Exorcist (1973). Other actors are in fine form, especially Diane Ladd as the foul-mouthed server, Flo.

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Alice comes across as a simple documentation of  life. For those who admire existentialist dramas, coming of age movies, or the lovely liberty of a second chance, or for film buffs, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a fine experience and a swift watch encompassing the spirit of life’s tangibility and exemplifying that if life throws lemons at you, just make lemonade. After all, you’re only as healthy as you feel, no?

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Hymns of Celebration

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Some movies just make you go Awww. You end up forgetting real life and start appreciating the wonder of reel-life. Frank Capra’s epic, It’s a Wonderful Life, is one such movie.

Well reputed for its repeat value as a feel good Christmas drama, it holds a television record during holiday season for all the wrong reasons. A copyright booboo consequently enabled television stations to endless hours of free screening on TV. But, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Frank Capra’s melodrama as the failure to renew its copyright in 1975 arced as the sole reason It’s a Wonderful Life has become the quintessential Christmas carol. Not surprising at all, It’s a Wonderful Life is a sweetie that’s sappy and splendid – taking you to the land of fairytales again.

Capra had already won three Oscars by the time he co-wrote, directed, and produced It’s a Wonderful Life. Sadly, the movie bombed at the box-office. It was celebrated in the Oscars though—receiving five nominations, winning only one. A shame, but considering it clashed with William Wyler’s Best Years of our Lives, it’s not surprising, a bit saddening. Still the movie ranks today as one of the greatest films made—a personal favorite of Frank Capra and James Stewart, who stars in this sentimental drama as George Bailey.

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The movie spans 26 years starting 1919 when George was merely 12 years young and ending at around 1945, with George now happy and merry at 38. Incidentally, that was Stewart’s real age when he came about doing It’s a Wonderful Life. Considering that he plays an 18-year-old here, it’s amazing how Stewart doesn’t look that old for his role as young and enthusiastic, George Bailey. His youthfulness and enthusiasm never really fades—a trait that keeps George going despite his rough life amidst tough times. As they say, what a time to be alive!

For George and his virtuous wife, Mary Bailey (played by the charming, Donna Reed), this period starting from George’s early part-time work at a Pharmacist’s until his responsibilities as the Chairperson of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association—becomes a romantic period that sees them bloom, whither, and shine again making a jolly family of six. In these 26 years, they grow to cherish their smalltime Bedford Falls turning this small town into a haven. George spends his time serving his hometown, and keeping it off the sordid hands of slumlord, Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) – saving the day many times for the hardworking and oppressed citizens of Bedford Falls.

Yet, one has to pose the question, what happens when this local messiah in flesh and blood faces trouble and finds himself in the corner? How can he go on protecting his fellas when he, himself, is done and dusted? That’s the catch, but have no fear friends for AS2, Angel Second Class, passionate admirer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is here to save the day. His name is Clarence Odbody, played with jest by Henry Travers.

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Clarence’s favorite novel, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer knits a mawkish metaphor in Wonderful Life. Like Tom, George’s overriding guilt of saving the day and undoing the wrong forms the basis and very like Tom and his pal, Huck, George is also an adventurer at heart wanting to visit Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Of course, this remains unfulfilled for he has to grow up at a young age and takeover as the Chairman of his father and uncle’s association. Not to let his people down and to ensure that Potter is kept at hand’s reach, George reluctantly agrees and once he does, his adventures only begin within the confines of this small town.

It’s a Wonderful Life might be longer than it appears for today’s viewers. At over 2 hours, the movie is slow taking its time as it skims over 26 years. Not to say it’s boring, which it isn’t, it can feel a bit tedious at times, but the splendor we see on screen, Capra’s tight direction, and the droll life and times of the Bailey couple keep it refreshing and amusing. It’s one of those movies you’d enjoy in a cold night wrapped around warm blankets with your family, which is also why It’s a Wonderful Life has become a nostalgic fair.

For people who’ve grown up reading and watching fairytales, it’s a wonderful throwback to those times, and only augments one’s deep-rooted desire for fantasy, goodness, and the celebration that’s life. And for Capra, celebration it was. After returning from his time away during the Second World War, Capra envisioned a movie that would celebrate life amidst the gory world he’d witnessed. James Stewart was on the same boat. Together, they created magic – delivering a movie that has become reminiscent with celebration and the joy of living. It’s a mad, mad, mad world—and Capra uses his wit and humor to tell a story of innate divinity behind the madness that appears.

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Under the mask of fantasy though, Capra uses this film to shed light on the manipulation of proprietors, capitalistic powers, and the chi of commercialization. He throws light on all these issues loosely, but doesn’t go into details as Wonderful Life isn’t really about life’s negativity, it’s about optimism, about human endeavor, and the value of individual lives. What’s important for Capra is to put these into effect and make this world one wonderful place – appreciating the wonder of life.

When George finds himself in the all-new Bedford thanks to Clarence, the movie takes a sharp noir turn, with low-key lighting, degenerative locales, and power-hungry maniacs ravaging the city, now renamed Pottersville. In the scene when the never-born, never-here George Bailey visits his dilapidated house, Capra throws sharp shadows in George’s face, and creates a depleted environment. Even if it’s for a tiny portion of the movie, we get a feel of a genuine film noir and the sad part – it could be the actual representation of an increasingly commercial America in the post-war scenario.

Nonetheless, we don’t suffer too much in such a noir-ish setting as Capra brings us right back into his fantasy. Perhaps he was clinging on to those values that made him the Frank Capra, and perhaps that’s why we all love him and his movies.

Looking back, It’s a Wonderful Life is the zenith’s of Capra’s career. How ironic that it led to his downfall, whilst being perhaps his best effort and one of the most glorious films ever made. Capra went on to direct five more movies after Wonderful Life. While they’re impressive in their own ways, none match the joie de vivre of It’s a Wonderful Life.

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It’s a Wonderful Life is heart-warming. Filled with Capra-ian ebullience, it highlights all the wonderful aspects of life, love, and the world. There may be few bad apples, but not all apples are the same. One just needs to realize the goodness in people, and strive to accept life a celebratory journey than a power-driven game. Maybe a bit too utopian, but a man (read person) doesn’t get into a situation like this always, right?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Capra when asked about the legacy of the movie:

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Ah, it is a wonderful life.

Teorema (1968) – The Theory of Everything

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Pier Paolo Pasolini is a renaissance man in its truest form. Philosopher, poet, novelist, political activist, and a filmmaker, his works are more popular for their political ideologies than for well-weaved narrations. With his roots firmly set on communism, Pasolini told stories from the lens of a Neorealist showing the grave lives of the poor, the proletariats, while underlying the vanity of the lives of the bourgeois. Teorema, or Theorem, is exactly as the name suggests—it formulizes the way of life in Italian society years after the Second World War.

When a strange man (Terrence Stamp) visits the house of a discreet bourgeois, he emanates bizarre vibes seducing the father, the mother, the son, the daughter, and the maid. They find him irresistible and are unable to understand this enigmatic being, yet they’re all attracted to him. In return, this Visitor “grants them their wish” and seduces them one-by-one: the maid, son, mother, father, and daughter.

One morning, he leaves abruptly, and after he leaves, their lives spiral out of control as they seek redemption through their own actions, which doesn’t appear forthcoming for this elite family. There are various interpretations as to who this Visitor could be; whether it is God, or the Devil itself—but that’s not the main point. Whoever this Visitor is, he seduced all of them; everybody (except the maid) confided to him, and ultimately—he transformed their lives, for better or worse.

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Paolo (Massimo Girotti), the father, finds no purpose in living. He renounces his material possessions and strips naked before entering the barren desert—a symbol that recurs throughout the movie.

Lucia (played by famed Italian actor, Silvana Mangano), the mother, realizes that she’s lived a life with no meaning. She has no special skills. She’s merely a passive spectator, without any silver lining. After the Visitor leaves, she wanders around trying to search for this seductive creature and ends up seducing young men who look like him.

Pietro (Andrés Soublette), through his homosexual encounter with the Visitor, loses his innocence and engages in his passion, painting, through which he tries to find the image of this ripple-less man.

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Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky), the daughter, who once negated herself and avoided men, finds herself in love with the Visitor. She tries to live in his memory, but finds herself unable to, thereby, entering a catatonic state.

Finally, Emilia (Laura Betti, playing the maid)—out of all, she was the only one who didn’t confide in the Visitor. She leaves the house, goes to a rural locale, and attains, what we’d call, a state of Nirvana before immolating herself, as she no longer feels the need to burden the world. The Hindus would call this Samadhi.

Teorema is a strange, minimalist movie. With little dialogs and recurrent symbols of bareness in the desert, the clouds drifting above, it symbolizes the nakedness of the bourgeoisie life. It points towards the eventuality of change—an initiation that is beginning to surface the layers of European society. Many theorists argue that Teorema highlights the inability of the elites to live a sacred life in harmony with existence. As a result, they’re unable to attain liberation—unlike the maid who attained Moksha. Yet, the film goes much deeper in its psychological portrayal of the vainness of people who live inside mansions and “own the poor.”

Pasolini uses deep spaces and extreme wide shots to fortify his stance of emptiness. He shows how the world is ultimately open and free to all, and no matter how much we stuff our lives with material possessions; at the end, everybody engulfs into this planet. Everything is without meaning, yet in this meaninglessness – there is divinity.

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In the outskirts of Milan, the poor sympathize with Emilia. In the metro, the rich can’t handle the vibrations of the heart, the purity of the soul, and through nurture—more so than Nature—these people are conditioned in living behind the veil of materialism. When vanity of matter is exposed, they have nothing to hold themselves. They fail to march on and embrace a life of spiritual substance because their souls are as hard and lifeless as their concrete foundation failing to realize that the only thing permanent is change itself.

In the context of the narrative, the Visitor appears to be the self-regulating mechanism of society—theorized into a symbol and well put in account by Pasolini. He, or it, is the subtle element within society that keeps it evolving. Only here, sexuality is the trigger, however, when one analyzes sexuality; it’s also the first path to liberation, of transformation, and towards creation of the new. The Visitor, comes from nowhere, and converts these people—constructing a new avatar within them. This renewed self is much more conscious and intelligent than their previous sleeping selves. But the impressions of their hardcore minds try to reject this rejuvenated self for they are left in a limbo, neither here nor there.

When these transformed beings, fresh as new, look at the world from their new gained perspective, the old starts wearing off; the new starts seeming too wild, too intimidating, and perhaps too wonderful for them to ever comprehend. Their defense mechanism kicks in. Those who could leave behind their traces are left transformed (Emilia) and those who couldn’t, run insane (Paolo), or into a perennial cul-de-sac (Lucia).

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Behind the wonderful visuals and paradoxical story, Teorema, in essence, pays homage to Freud’s psychoanalysis and Marx’s dialectical materialism. Sexuality remains in the subtext throughout the movie. Viewed as a positive force, Emilia in this case, is born again. To those who consider it a passion of the body, the guilt haunts them and to undo one vice, they falter into a series of vices.

Ultimately, though, the theory of oppressor vs. oppressed forms the main text of the film. Whom are they oppressing? Who is oppressing whom? What is matter? What good is materialism? How to evolve from this material state into something far more ethereal—is it even possible? Teorema tries answering these questions, but leaves much to the discretion of the viewer.

Pasolini’s views run throughout the movie. His ideologies of anti-consumerism, communism, and renunciation ultimately form an arc that catapults Teorema as a discourse on society than a feature film. Pasolini isn’t concerned with how the movie progresses. He wants people to talk about the movie after it’s over. And, he’s succeeded because Teorema starts where the story ends. He only gives us the beginning. The middle and the end are entirely up to us.

All of this makes Teorema a peculiar movie that’s a hybrid of documentary, pure montage, and narrative cinema. It’s stimulating and opens the gate to issues surrounding Italy and most of Europe two decades after the Second World War. The movie provokes people into thinking about societal tendencies, about life, and about phenomenology as very few movies have, before or after. And that’s where the movie manages to stump us, with its uncommitted observation of the microcosmic reality present in our society.

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Watch Teorema when you have the time. Sex is treated pure, in its primeval sense, leading to creation of the new, consequently, giving birth to originality, whilst providing a continuum to the inherent virtue of humans. It’s a cathartic movie leaving you with many questions, few answers – and that’s the romance of this splendid movie. It doesn’t say a lot, but the little it does—encompasses the grand theories of an individual’s place in an ever-changing reality.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) – When the Phantom Meets Dorian Gray in a Faustian Affair

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The ever notorious Brian De Palma builds his gothic drama on the foundation of three classic novels—Gaston Leroux’ Phantom of the Opera, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the German legend, Faust, popularized by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe. As it goes, De Palma does the seemingly impossible by creating a perfect transmutation of three novels featuring the devil, the man who sold his soul to the devil in a Faustian trade-off, and the unlikely musical genius, the Phantom.

Despite borrowing the premises from these classics, De Palma manages to present a shrilling satire on the booming entertainment industry of the 70s—revealing the private lives and behaviors of music artists and recording studio executives. The overarching dominance of corporates over art serves as the central theme. That’s only the beginning though as Phantom of the Paradise treads over mayhem and chaos—disorganization and catastrophe.

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In this devilish drama, De Palma uses his archetypical violence in telling a story of a naïve music composer, Winslow Leach (played by William Finley), who is robbed and destroyed by the executive of Death Records, Swan (Paul Williams)—only to come back as the devil’s double. Jessica Harper stars as Phoenix, the unrequited lover of the Phantom, but De Palma doesn’t spare her either. Her life spirals down to chaos as her fame increases, as people go crazy over her sultry voice and girl-next-door avatar. Leave it to the Phantom to save her though. He secretly writes songs for her. She gives them life and that’s all the Phantom wants. Nevertheless, we have a villain in the perplexing Swan—who does things his way or the highway, and when the Devil himself faces off against the Devil’s Double, we’re in De Palma territory.

Phantom of the Paradise is content-driven and includes themes from the trio of novels, yet also manages to give a commentary on fandom, the entertainment business, monopoly of recording studios, degeneration of artists, frantic stampedes, and the manufacturing of music stars to meet the needs and demands of these studios. Musicians-cum-artists may create magic, but the magic is all in the hands of these moguls who retain it and reuse it as they deem fit, as it fits their agenda.

For a movie that says so much, Phantom of the Paradise is a breezy ride, which is nothing short of sensational considering the gravity of the themes De Palma explores and the novels he bases this fantastic story on. Paradise contains all of De Palma’s idiosyncrasies as a filmmaker. There’s love, sex, violence, treachery, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption—making this film a thesis on De Palma and his thrilling style.

Then, there’s overindulgence (Swan) and there’s under-indulgence (The Phantom). On one side, we have the power of control. On the other side, we have the virtue of a genius. In the middle is the struggling singer, Phoenix, in oblivion to all of this—trying to create a path to musical glory. Along the way, she loses track, but her omnipresent guardian angel is always there for her, looking out for her—trying to rescue her from the dirty business and attempting to introduce her to the sound of music.

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De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission Impossible (1996) might be more popular than Paradise, but with no qualms, one can safely assert that Phantom of the Paradise is his seminal classic. It’s brutal, gory, and tragic, with some unforgettable scenes shown with a bittersweet touch. It tells a fascinating story of polarities, yet it’s very entertaining. In questioning the underbelly of the music business of the 70s, De Palma not only informs, he entertains. He makes this a joyous watch defying stereotypes. Considering that Paradise is a musical tragedy, the mere fact that it’s warm despite being cold, it’s fun whilst being sad makes this an exemplary piece of art.

What makes Paradise worth it is the fairytale-like presentation. De Palma executes this grave movie with light undertones and sets a fanatical mood. Whatever you see is light-hearted. The gory scenes are shot comically. They’re powerful, but filtered. The villain is what you’d expect from a Disney cartoon—smooth, yet with his own quirks. The Phantom, the unlikely hero, is like Popeye who’s a go-lucky guy that reaches another plane when he smells the air of music, when anybody questions is ingenuity, when people try to plagiarize his compositions, or when they set their evil eyes on his ladylove. His life and his music are only for the Phantom, and more importantly, Phoenix.

None of the actors in this movie really outgrew Paradise. William Finley stars with bravura and naivety as the unlikely Phantom. Jessica Harper steals the show. Three years later, she’d star in Dario Argento’s tour de force, Suspiria—one of the finest horrors ever made, but it’s sad to see that she never reached her true potential as an actor. Paul Williams, a real life musician, probably climbed his highest peak with Paradise. He’s brilliant as the suave, cunning, and quirky Swan—a role, it appears, designed for him.

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Complimented by terrific performances, a brilliant script, and De Palma’s unwavering artistry, Phantom of the Paradise is total non-stop action. Taking you to De Palma’s frenzied world, it clutches onto you and doesn’t let go. A fine addition to New Hollywood of the 70s, Paradise is a mixture of love and hatred forming an untouchable pact that carries the film’s legacy until today. The scar-faced Phantom in a match against the Devil, dressed to kill, all equipped to blow you out – a feat, mission impossible to topple.

Sadanga (2015) – Six Angles of Torture

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Right from the onset, Sadanga takes you to a world of craziness. A story about a man from the plains, it’s supposed to be a treatise on his life grappling with crime and politics. But nothing works in this wanna-be “neo-noir” flick—a movie that’s more about scenes put together in a poor edit than a story about the dirt of Kathmandu.

Sadanga is about Kalu Yadav, played by Saugat Malla, who seems to have given his best in preparing for this role, but somewhere you have to ask—why does this character have to be from a small village in Madhesh and not from any other part of Nepal. There is no proper logic backing this decision. A decision I admired when I first heard about it and the sole reason my footsteps romanced the floor of the theater.

The creators of this drama have chosen whim over rational in assigning the archetypical role to Saugat Malla ignoring that the story doesn’t demand such a character. In fact, the story doesn’t demand anything – neither your attention, nor your hard-earned money, and definitely not your time. Saugat Malla is loud in his portrayal, but what is even more loud is subtext and stereotypical representation of every character in the film—marked by poor performances and clichés that would cajole you to leave the premises right in the middle, for it is intolerable and the intolerability begins from the first sequence itself.

The ultimate sin, therefore, is the lack of story, or no story. Sadanga feels like a twisted series of misinterpreted pastiches than a movie. To call it a movie would be comical because it’s a succession (or, lack thereof) of shots and sequences put together that is invariably worsened by the lousy performances of Priyanka Karki as the Femme Fatale, Bijaya Lama, the ace entrepreneur who seems to be in a perennial state of throat cancer (no offense) throughout the movie. Not to forget the farce put up by Anup Baral as the DSP, and of course, the cream of the crop, Sauram Raj Tuladhar—who shows just why being a model doesn’t equate to being an actor. A wood’s job is to glorify the jungles but not dance around the wolves. The man is hopeless in his role.

Unfortunately, unlike some invariably bad movies, Sadanga doesn’t have any positives. The cinematography is inconveniently phony, and for the dough spent on the production design, one has to ask again—for the umpteenth time—why can’t Nepali filmmakers ever seem to do something right?

Rare instances apart, the whole state of cinema in this glorious nation seems to be held in a perpetual stalemate—led by farcical premises, poor plotting, lack of well-presented stories, and awful performances most of the time. The lack of education in film is astounding for a city, Kathmandu, where filmmaking and studies seem to be rising by the day.

Sadanga is an exhibition on how not to make a movie. The photography, lighting, and editing are amateurish. The dialogs are hopeless and one would presume most of Saugat’s dialogs were written just to show off his abilities to camouflage into characters, which again isn’t that impressive. Perhaps if the screenwriter read any basic book on screenwriting or even watched a film with eyes set on the story progression, maybe, just maybe, we’d have a presentable movie in front of us.

Alas, that’s not the case and of course, the discredit goes to the captain of the ship, the Director, Suraj Sunuwar—who’s also the screenwriter here—for having taken a massive gamble of gambling with the sensibilities of the audiences in creating a horrible product violating the abstract rights of humans to proper films and stories.

Avoid.

Rear Window (1954) – Peeping Tom

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Rear Window looks into a close-knit neighborhood—diverse people engaged in personal endeavors, occupied by trifles, and immersed in living.

When ace photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is bound to the confines of a wheelchair after an accident, he has to ease into a temporary cast and remain indoors to heal and recuperate. In those long, boring days, he passes time by surveying the activities of his neighbors, observing their lives, and empathizing with their conditions. He’s the poster child of Peeping Tom and loves, notoriously, to peep into the lives of people irrelevant to his.

One night, deep awake, Jeff notices something bizarre from his window. A married man stuffs something in his briefcase and goes out of the house many-a-time. Next day, he finds the wife missing and suspecting this man for murder of his wife, James begins a couch-based investigation – using his binocular, long-focus lens, phone, camera, and his sophisticated girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by the dignified Grace Kelly. But, James has a major problem: he doesn’t have rock solid proof against the man. His girlfriend and personal nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) do seem to buy his story. Is that enough though?

Based on a short story by Cornell WoolrichRear Window is a suspenseful crime drama. It’s cramped into the flat of Jeff, with the movie revolving around this bubbly community. A ballerina living opposite to Jeff, a musician to his right, a loony woman a floor below the mysterious couple and of course—the point of attention, the man accused of murdering his sickly wife, living beside the odd couple; these people have their own untold stories and a unique life – amusing and revealing for the temporarily invalid photojournalist.

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Viewers observe the life of a ballerina living in practice, indulging in food, and becoming a prey to man-hunters. The couple upstairs lead their own isolated life, but their tiny dog connects them to the rest of the society. In the same manner, the newly married neighborhood romantics enjoy and engage in amorous activities until they start growing sick of one another. The woman below, who’s lonely and oh so seeking a life partner, finds no respite, whereas the musician—sick and tired of solitude—seeks to find the perfect hymn to instill his life with melody. Not to ignore the couple that most intrigues Jeff, the sickly wife bed-ridden and the husband tired and exhausted, could he have been the one to eliminate this perceptual thorn from his life?

Rear Window opens up a world, a microcosmic reality within society, and tells of the different tales people would witness if only they observed. All you need is to peep around, listen not hear, watch not look, and contemplate not analyze on people’s lives around you to reach an enlightening climax and gain profundity on people and society.

Jeff evolves from the drifter he was initially to a responsible man with a sense of duty when the film climaxes. For Lisa, the elegant socialite, she stands very much different to Jeff’s rogue ways. Yet, love bonds them together – romance sparks a light above their heads. She evolves from the sophisticated Lisa Fermont to the adaptable woman who’d gain from the best experiences of both worlds.

Masked as a thriller, Rear Window is actually a satire, a social drama on the various elements of life. Only when we stand to observe can we really relive life and only when we’re held together by a cast in a predicament unchangeable—can we excel and evolve. It is the law of nature.

The movie is slow at times, but very profound. With minimalistic locations and a tight, claustrophobic charm, Real Window is a movie celebrating reflection. The movie came out 60 years ago; it’s amazing how it hasn’t aged a bit and stands the test of time, unlike many other Alfred Hitchcock classics. The storytelling is crisp, the performances natural, and the world as it is.

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One of Hitchcock’s great films, Rear Window is similar to Dial M for Murder that coincidentally came out later that year, but is shot with a different lens—told by a different narrator. It’s up there with Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960),and The Birds (1963), and has its own unique stamp as one of Hitchcock’s finest thrillers for Rear Window isn’t merely about a crime; it’s about crime and punishment, about actions and consequences, about cause and effects.

If you’re an admirer of Hitchcock’s vision, Rear Window is just what you need to peep into. It tells a lot about Hitchcock and through him—about those around us.

Housebound (2014) – The Phantom of the House

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An eccentric teenager, a divorced Mom living with her boyfriend, a ghost breathing under them, and a madcap of events turning the tides—home detention, after all, blows.

In Housebound, viewers are attuned to a truculent teenager, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), after the court sentences her to 8 months of home detention for an attempted bank robbery. Kylie has to return to the place where she grew up and live with her affectionate mother (Rima Te Wiata)—Kylie not quite reciprocating. When she realizes that the house is haunted, through her mother, she thinks her mom’s gone crazy, but soon begins to realize that a ghost in indeed in the premises.

Viewers tend to shun horror-comedies for its whimsical plot and poor execution. Some have excelled, Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) or the original Fright Night (1985), whilst some have taken forms of amusing satires like the Scream series, or even a Cabin in the Woods (2012). Housebound falls in those categories where the director gets the mixture of horror and comedy right and viewers get to watch a cross-blended genre film that’s entertaining as well as freaky.

Gerard Johnstone cited quite a few yesteryear horror classics as his inspiration for Housebound. Movies like Ghostbusters (1984), The Changeling (1980), and The Legend of Hell House (1973) to be precise. Yet, Housebound most famously resembles Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera originally published in 1909/10. Minus the love saga, the suspense of Housebound is quite similar to the mystery in the novel, only this time—a private home is the stage for infamy and terror.

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When Kylie discovers about the murder of a teenage girl decades ago, she’s convinced of something sinister doing the rounds. This also compels her to believe her mom’s version of the story, the living dead lurking in the corners of the house. Simmered with collisions with the House Ghost, Kylie begins to unravel the mystery behind this house and of the ghost that lives with them. What she discovers is hilariously spooky, and the consequent events chuck this movie as a witty, deceptive, and charming horror comedy from the land of the Kiwis.

The quirky characters add an extra dimension that makes Housebound a joyous little tale that could occur anywhere in the world. Not only is it relatable; how often have we seen the eccentric teenage daughter who thinks she’s the bomb, or the mother helplessly loving her rude and profane daughter, and amidst all of this—a third party enjoying the moolah, only for manifestations to bring them together to fight against the common enemy? Add a pinch of action, a dash of suspense, and pour the rubles of hilarity over them; you have a clever entertainer, a droll story, and a beautiful execution of an artifact that’s warm and cold, distant, yet near.

Morgana O’Reilly stuns you with her performance as the electric teenager. The story successfully layers her transformation from an outright pain to a considerate learner, who grows more composed, more deliberate, and more realistic as these circumstances pledge to goad her down. In all of this chaos, her presence of mind stands out—all the time—through which she realizes the importance of being rational, whilst understanding the depth of relationships, the value of acceptance. Looking at it that way, behind the horror and the comic relief, there are themes of overcoming odds and coming of age in Housebound. For Kylie, for her mother, and for her half-father, and last but definitely not the least, for the House Ghost.

Housebound is multi-layered in its themes. You have coming of age on one hand, acceptance on the other, fate at one side, revenge on the other, bonding on one step, and moving forward on the next. Gerard Johnstone embraces these elements crisply and what he does best is entertain viewers while doing so, which is what Housebound is for all the drama and chaos. It’s enjoying and a breezy watch of less than 2 hours. Time just slips by and for the flaws present in the movie, there are quite a few, the balance of horror and comedy, of people and events makes you ignore them and enjoy the movie for what it is.

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Surrounded by idiosyncratic performances and cushioned by an ironic atmosphere, Housebound might be a small-scale movie in comparison; however, the story, performances, and the technical aspects would delude you from the assumption. That in itself is a major honor. Housebound is humorous, spooky, peculiar, and one gem of a horror movie that has its dosages of gore and fright, but is ultimately a movie about warmth, love, and togetherness.

Dial M for Murder (1954) – Textbook Plan

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Based on a stage play, Dial M for Murder is like a play exclusively screened for the curtain. Much of the action revolves around the house of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. The movie rarely treads out of the house amidst murder, deceit, and treachery—making excellent use of spatial elements. Frederick Knott penned the screenplay that is adapted from his own play.

When ex-tennis player Tony (Ray Milland) finds out about his wife’s affair with common friend, Mark Haliiday (Robert Cummings), he chalks up a petrifying plan to kill his wife and inherit her property. Blackmailing one of his old college friends (Anthony Dawson), Tony envisions a foolproof plan of getting rid of his wife, Margot (played by the classy Grace Kelly). But things do not go as planned for poor Tony after which he improvises another plan to eliminate his wife. In a moment of sheer epiphany, Tony uses the gnarls of law to send his wife into a sentence, thereby, inheriting her estate and taking his willful revenge.

Just like Tony’s plan, Dial M for Murder is a well-planned, meticulous, and an intelligent movie. It builds on the underlying psychologies of the characters and clutches viewers in the home-centric drama of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. Dial M is quite similar to Rear Window (1954) as both movies appear claustrophobic and entangle in mysteries surrounding wives. While Rear Window is more passionate less tactical, Dial M, on the other hand, is more tactical, less about passion.

What’s unique in Dial M is the mise-en-scene environment. If we ignore the camera movement, Dial M almost feels like a stage play. It has a well-drawn set—the Wendice Apartment—and 95% of the action occur within the confines of this cozy-looking home. Yet, extending beyond this space, the mind does go off for a saunter and Hitchcock does, what he does best—create riveting tension and build towards an imploring climax.

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Despite the themes of deceit and greed, Dial M remains classy. Tony Wendice is a man of elegance. Margot Wendice is a woman of virtue and charm. Mark Haliiday is an empathizer, a detective fiction novelist and journalist—he’s aware of most murder mysteries and the intricacies of planning a perfect murder. His profession does have a major role to convey during the latter sequences of the film—rounding off his character with sincerity.

The star of the show, of course, is Ray Milland for his smooth reprisal as Tony Wendice—the silent assassin who has his way with words, manners, and etiquette. He can think on the spur and can generate ideas with ease. It was almost the perfect get-away, but as they say with crime and punishment—the criminal always leaves behind a trace.

Grace Kelly is her usual elegant self as in most Hitchcockian thrillers. As a free spirit, as the vocal woman, and as the companion of Tony, or the secret lover of Mark, she is on her game—with vivacity and a powerful screen presence. The rest carry off their roles smoothly. Robert Cummings does not have much scope due to the nature of his role, but does a fine job. John Williams, as Chief Inspector Hubbard, is somber yet penetrating and decisive, and he steals the show.

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Dial M for Murder is trademark Hitchcock. It’s jumpy and intriguing despite being a notch below other Hitchcock classics. It can get a bit slow at times, but Hitchcock’s mastery as a storyteller is enough to carry it off to an edgy climax—keeping viewers anticipated and enthralled for most parts. Not to ignore the brilliant extension of time and space, of mise-en-scene elements, and of subtleties only a master could transport with minimalism.