Hours and hours after suffering rank bad cinema in darkened auditoriums at the ongoing International Film Festival of India here, I came across a few movies that perked me up.
Genre specialist Jacques Audiard’s prison drama may be a trifle too long at two-and-a-half hours but is a telling account of Arab humiliation in France. The French master helmer takes his camera inside a prison to enumerate and elaborate the deep-rooted animosity between the two communities. He chooses Malik El Djebena (played extremely well by newcomer Tahar Rahim), a 19-year-old Arab, as his protagonist who finds himself serving a six-year term in a jail that is in effect run by a brutal Corsican gang headed by Cesar Luciani. Malik is told, under threat of death, to kill a fellow Arab prison inmate, and even after he accomplishes his murderous mission he remains very much an outsider. For the Corsicans, he is a “dirty Arab” and for the Muslims, the other dominant group in the jail, he is but a traitor. A Prophet is a fascinating study of prison crime and how the young unlettered hero educates himself and learns to survive in such dark savagery eventually becoming the king himself. Rahim is at once shy, subtle and inarticulate, but finally grows into an epitome of ruthlessness.
Spain’s Pedro Almodovar gives us Broken Embraces, a light comedy that is quite different from his earlier heavy, emotional and rather dark Volver. A director and an actress fall passionately in love in Broken Embraces evoking jealous fireworks. Almodovar is by now a brand name, and his muse is the attractive Penelope Cruz, and the film plays out at two levels – on the set and off it, where it is melodramatic. A master at observing cinema and speculating on its iconic imagery, the auteur narrates the story of a movie director who goes blind after a car crash and loses the love of his life, Lena (Cruz). The affair itself ran on some of the roughest roads with Lena’s freedom curtailed by the wealthy broker who keeps her. In an attempt to stop her from straying into the arms of the director, the broker decides to produce the film and asks his son to shoot a documentary on the making of the movie. Cruz’s Audrey Hepburn hairdo and Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography add to the overall feel-good of Almodovar’s newest creation that, despite a few odd moments, does not disappoint us.
The third master-helmer is from Britain, Ken Loach, whose Looking for Eric is a deviation from his earlier cinema of social realism. Cannes Palm d’Or winner for his earlier The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Loach offers a crowd pleaser this time: a touch of fantasy and clever comic writing that includes the former soccer player, Eric Cantona. He appears in a sad postal worker’s home played with gusto by Steve Evets, also named Eric. Separated from his second wife seven years earlier, postman Eric is driven crazy by his two stepsons that worsens his panic attacks. Funny and sentimental with a touch of ugly reality (without which a Loach work may seem incomplete), Looking for Eric is fascinating cinema.