In a scene in Ánimas Trujano, the protagonist—the eponymous Ánimas, an inveterate gambler, drunk, and believer in every charm or superstition floating around—has just lost a lot of money on a cockfight. Ánimas, before the fight, had been certain he would win, because a fortune teller’s little bird had ‘told’ Ánimas’s fortune by picking out a card on which were written words to the effect that Ánimas’s luck would shine on this day.
But the bird has proved wrong, and Ánimas has lost all his money. In a fit of anger, he goes back to the fortune teller, takes the bird from him, and goes off into a deserted ruin by himself, where he raves and rants at the bird, clutching it in his fist and cursing it for not predicting his fortune correctly.
Or, if you want the complete, expanded name, Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain), named for the collection of supernatural stories by 18th century Japanese writer, Ueda Akinari. Two of the stories from this book—Asaji ga Yado (House amid the Thickets) and Jasei no In (Lust of the White Serpent) were adapted, and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi in what was to become one of the most highly acclaimed Japanese films of all time: Ugetsu went on to win the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival; has been listed as one of the best films made in Sound and Sight magazine’s top ten critics poll; and has appeared in countless other ‘best movies’ lists.
Without wasting more time on listing its achievements, though, something about what the story is all about.
We begin with a brief introduction to the time and place. This is 18th century Japan; a civil war is raging; and in a small rural community, the villagers are trying hard to keep body and soul together despite the violence that surrounds them. When we get into the story proper, it’s to find a potter, Genjûrô (Mayasuki Mori), loading a consignment of his pottery onto a cart to take to market.
In English, The Wedding Day. Also known (ironically, as it turns out) as A Happy Event in the Maeng Family.
I’ve been watching a lot of (relatively new) Korean films—most of them frothy romances and romcoms—over the past several weeks. They reminded me that I’d never reviewed a Korean film on this blog, and they also reminded me that the first Korean film I ever saw was a romantic one; or what I could remember of it was romantic. The film was shown on Doordarshan, India’s sole television channel back in the early 80s. Doordarshan, back then, showed an interesting mix of foreign cinema: all the way from films like Red Sorghum (which my parents should probably not have let an impressionable 12-year old watch) to Fedora, which bored me to tears. And a Korean historical about a wedding in a family.
It’s sad that, over the past year or so, barely a month has passed without my having to post a tribute to yet another film personality who’s passed on. Last month, with Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine and Peter O’Toole passing away within days of each other, I thought it couldn’t get worse. And I hoped that 2014 would be better.
But, alas. We say goodbye to yet another luminary of the film world. This time, the beautiful and very talented (not to mention wildly popular) Suchitra Sen (April 6, 1931-January 17, 2014), who made a mark in Hindi cinema even in the few films she acted in (Bombai ka Babu, Devdas, Mamta and Aandhi being the best-known), but ruled Bengali cinema.
And, what with my penchant for honouring precedents, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to watch a film that has that number—400—in its title. Les Quatre Cents Coups (known in English as The Four Hundred Blows, though the actual translation would be closer to ‘the four hundred dirty tricks’) was directed by François Truffaut, one of the most prominent pioneers of French New Wave cinema. It was Truffaut’s first full-length feature film, a work that not only won much critical acclaim, but also led Truffaut to make a series of sequels featuring the same lead character…
…who is, in Les Quatre Cents Coups, the twelve-year old Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud).
I was in the mood for watching something different. This film seemed to fit the bill: the first old Japanese film I’ve seen that wasn’t directed by Akira Kurosawa, and the first monster movie I’ve reviewed on this blog.
Godzilla (1998, the Hollywood version) was a film I didn’t watch for many years after its release, despite the fact that some Indian TV channel or the other was always showing it. Then, I happened to go on a monster movie binge, and ended up watching it. (More, later in this post, about what I thought of it). Importantly, Godzilla encouraged me to look out for the original Japanese film.
Last week, chatting with a group of friends (equally mad about old cinema) on Facebook, I was stumped by a quiz question posted by one of them. Which was the first Indian language feature film to be made without any songs? Most of us who attempted to answer that question could only think of Hindi films, and the earliest Hindi non-songs film we came up with was Kanoon (1960). That wasn’t the answer—the correct answer was the Tamil film Andha Naal (That Day), made six years before Kanoon, and (like Kanoon) blending suspense—in the form of a murder mystery—with weighty issues about society and politics.
[Edited to add: According to blog reader and blogger AK, of Songs of Yore, the correct answer to that question is actually the 1937 Wadia Movietone film Naujawan].
I’ve spent the past month—and more—focussing solely on Indian cinema. Time for a change, I thought.
This, therefore. Director René Clément’s Plein Soleil (literally, ‘Full Sun’, but known as Purple Noon) is a French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, and was the first major film of Alain Delon, who really does dominate the film. In more ways than one.
Serendipity: noun. plural: serendipities. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident; the occurrence of such a discovery. Coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, based on a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendib (‘Serendib’ being present-day Sri Lanka)—the three princes in question often making such lucky discoveries.
And what does this have to do with Chaowa-Pawa (‘To Want and To Have’)? Simply that, while I had set about watching this film because I really, really like the lead pair—Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen—I realized, within the first half hour of the film, that it was a remake of one of my favourite old Hindi films, Chori-Chori (which, as many of you would know, was a remake of It Happened One Night). Serendipity? Absolutely.
When I’d decided to dedicate this month to regional Indian cinema, I’d also decided that I wouldn’t restrict myself to only the grim, stark ‘real’ films that win awards (Chemmeen, as you will see over the next few films, was an exception rather than the norm). After all, it’s not only the films which win awards that are remembered and loved. There are also films that may not be award-winning material, but are enjoyable and prove to be hugely popular.
Pathala Bhairavi—originally in Telugu, also dubbed in Hindi and Tamil—was one of these. Although the research I’ve done doesn’t seem to indicate any awards won, this film was a superhit, which ran to packed houses for weeks on end. It was also the only South Indian film to be selected for screening at the first International Film Festival in Bombay in 1952. And—this was what made me want to see it—it was a fantasy film, one of my favourite genres.