Thursday, March 21, 2013

"A Short Film About Killing" (Language - Polish) (1988) - Movie Review

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “A Short Film About Killing” puts right in the middle of what the title says. Two lives are taken and we get excruciating detail of that. Released in 1988, this Polish film is not a comfortable film to watch. In the first half of the film there is a wanderer on the streets of Warsaw clearly not in his right state of mind. He seem to be having an agenda and is not sure whether he is going to be a victim or the perpetrator. Then there is the cab driver with utter disregard of consideration for others. Whether he is going to be the victim or perpetrator is unsure. Kieślowski wants you to keep guessing and when the act happens, while it is obviously brutal, it tells a great deal about ourselves.

Jan Tesarz plays the cab driver and we have encountered him in one way or other. It is not the fact that they were having a bad day but somehow in their mind it is clear that the consideration for others in a society is a waste of time and more importantly an overrated act. Their conscience seem to lie purely for themselves and even their next of kin might not be on their priority list. Tesarz plays this guy with ease and makes us feel to despise him with ease as well. Miroslaw Baka is the drifter. Lean and a clear concern in his eyes for the buried sorrow is evident. Kieślowski does not tell you what it is. In his own way he wants to test the water of anarchy. There is a scene where he slowly pushes a stone of the ledge that is above a busy road. He knows the consequence and he seem to get a thrill out of it.

While Kieślowski is chronicling the day’s life of these two people, there is another person in between them. Not at least in this day he is not but he will be in future. That is Krzysztof Globisz as Balicki, an aspiring lawyer attending his interview. This is all he prepared for. His passion overflows through his speech and the affinity he has towards the justice system is jubilant. He is with hopes and dreams of making a huge difference in the society and mainly the law he has studied, mastered and worships. He has to explain the reasoning for his zeal and he does not provide in great speeches rather in broken but meaningful explanation. Most of the times when someone is overwhelmed with that enormous admiration and humility of the profession they are aspiring, it ends up in fumbling words. Nevertheless he makes it out to be the lawyer.

Now to the first brutal exercise of the film. Herein the cab driver and Jacek the drifter are there. One of them kills the other. The intentions are unclear at that moment but that does not matter. All we know is that a life is being taken and the information we know of each is both important and trivial. Important due to the fact that those are the only things we know of them and as a viewer we are forced to make judgments on that. Trivial due to the fact that those are not good enough reasons for a life to be taken. Look at what Kieślowski does out here which is to begin the debate that whether there is ever a right reason to take a life in that predetermined fashion.

The second part of the film is the execution of the killer from the first part. Of course he is being represented by the passionate and compassionate lawyer Balicki. Sufficient time has passed by from the time of killing through the point where the decision has been made to execute the killer. Balicki is deeply disturbed and feels guilty of letting his client down. This is the worst failure wherein the resultant of Balicki’s effort is the loss of a life. Despite the judge assuring him that he did everything he could, there is nothing a soul would need that would calm itself down on this kind of burden.

Sławomir Idziak’s cinematography is not alone key to the film but is the innovative technique that would not have passed on for the times this film was shot and released. He not alone provides a sepia tone that adds nostalgic sense to all kind of simple pictures but he blurs and un-blurs the object in and out of focus that adds another layer to this film. The city is decaying in a way and the characters with it.

Kieślowski takes you through the systematic execution of the killer that is as brutal, visceral and questionable as the first half. The comparison is what makes the “A Short Film About Killing” such a morally effective film. The first part of the film becomes the judgment to make on the second part of the film. Is there a good justified kill especially when it is premeditated in such a fashion? There is no iota of doubt in the brutality and the beckoning punishment of that crime in the first act but Kieślowski and the passionate supporters of anti-death penalty question whether venturing similar act of brutality on the perpetrator makes it right to close the book on that chapter. Kieślowski of course leaves you with the thoughts and debate but the scenes leading up to both the killings are what makes this film something beyond a regular feat of vouching for one or the other.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Side Effects" (2013) - Movie Review

Steven Soderbergh can do a world of difference to a catatonic plot. The appreciation and respect Andrei Tarkovsky gets for his excruciating details for portraying the minutiae of regularity in emotions and events should properly and rightfully presented to this great director. The disappointment this reviewer had with Tarkovsky is known but I have an understanding for the people that admire that classic director. What I see in the simplistic yet punctuated grandeur of Soderbergh’s style might have been the similar experience those viewers perceive and endure to be satisfied. Steven Soderbergh said to have decided to retire from films, a decision he has consciously made in order to change direction to another form of art at the age of 50. This act in itself tells about a man who has a clarity in understanding of his objectives. I will miss his films but I sure hope he comes back sporadically.

Here is “Side Effects” that brightens the glossiness of the modernity and then dulls it by the brownish tin it bodes through its cinematography. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a sad woman and the recent release of her loving husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) from prison does not alleviate it either. After serving time for insider trading brought down the glorious life of Emily. She has managed to go through with that ordeal but the depression gets the better of her. One fine evening she hurriedly goes through and sincerely commits her first suicide attempt by driving directly into a wall. Enter psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who has the charm and kindness any psychiatric would beg to have. He reads into this clearly and persuades her to visit him on a deal that Emily visits him regularly. With the history of her depression with her previous psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seabert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), she agrees on that deal.

Emily is taken through the trial and error of the pills. Soderbergh gives a world where the understanding of human mind and emotions are unpredictable. To that the current trend of pharmaceuticals provides happiness with of course cost of the supposed side effects. Emily goes through multitude of these. While this is happening, Dr. Banks is in the process of enlisting new patients on another experimental drug. Through these Soderbergh provides a scary situation of how we rely on experts especially to achieve happiness and how those experts rely on trial methods and pharmaceuticals and fellow doctors to guide them. This while is no different from a treatment for a physiological problem is even more complicated than that. The modern miracle of science have made the study and behaviour through the mechanics of a human body accessible and solvable. Yet the mind is riddle of its own. “Side Effects” gives a chilling reality of this consistent unreliability in that and how the world of pharmaceuticals, psychiatry and the media circus around it.

Soderbergh goes deeper into this subject when Emily’s new prescription of Ablixa results in a fatality due to its side effects. This shakes the foundation of the life Dr. Banks has and suddenly rattles everything on the study of medication that are prescribed to treat mental illness. Just as you are exposed to this current affairs of psychological treatments, Soderbergh turns this into a thriller that you soon begin to doubt and become paranoid as Dr. Banks.

Jude Law follows his performance with the director following “Contagion” and he is the psychiatrist we would love to have. A trustworthy face and a kindness in his voice makes it all good even when he would provide the sweet nectar of death. His Dr. Banks navigates from a sensible doctor building a life with his family into a paranoid man determined to unlock the cause of the decline his patient has caused through the drug he prescribed. Rooney Mara plays the victim out here whom we are in constant sympathy and confusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily’s previous psychiatrist wears her hair and dress that comes off both as a strong woman who can shoo away any kind of accusation with perfect confidence with a calculated cruelty.

Soderbergh in his last feature film steers the film into various territory from the world of psychiatric drugs through media hype and into the paranoid finally settling on a psychological thriller that descends on a like a convincing riddle solving itself admirably. Under his alias Peter Andrews, Soderbergh brings his style virtuoso into play where there is a constant outer layer of mild colour tone to indicate his presence. I have constantly admired his work and even in the most mediocre genre you can see his work. To create and establish a class of one’s work without a presumptuous nature is an art by itself. Here he proves that again and provides a classic homage to the genre and shuddering us in the process of the world we live in where we swallow pills like a candy.