Favorite Movie #95: Pather Panchali (1955)

Part of My Favorite Things: 100+ of my Favorite Movies Ever

Pather Panchali (1955), dir. Satyajit Ray, starring Subir Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Uma Dasgupta, Chunibala Devi

Image result for pather panchali

For the most part, I’m allergic to kids–never gotten along with them in real life and don’t always enjoy watching them onscreen. Instead of playing with kids, I fight with them: I made my nephew cry because I refused to stay dead (I was a zombie) and said he’ll never win because I never die. On movie screens, as much as I enjoy The 400 Blows, a big big part of me wants to smack Antoine across the face.  L’Enfance Nue has an even more exhausting child. But when I saw Pather Panchali, it was a quiet revelation. Against all my instincts, there’s something lovable, endearing, and innocent about Apu that translates onscreen the way Antoine or Francois doesn’t. Sure, like any other kid, Apu can be disobedient and tiresome–his mother’s face is the dictionary definition of weary. But this movie is uniquely its own thing. It conjures precious memories of my childhood summers spent in the province of Bohol.

Every summer, since I was 3, I remember spending time in Bohol with our household helpers when they go on vacation. I remember taking a ship that leaves from Manila Bay, docks in Cebu before heading to Tagbilaran. From there, we would take a jeepney to Panglao, a small town that is now a popular tourist site. Back in the 1990s, it was barely electrified. Life there was simple. There weren’t asphalt grounds, no cement houses–everyone lived in nipa huts. Yet it was still full of simple joys. I remember watching a kid climb a coconut tree that must have been 25 or 30 feet tall with his bare hands; I remember playing with kids on the beach and stepping on one of those spiky sea urchin that hurt like hell; I remember having to take a flashlight to go use the outside toilet. I remember sleeping under a mosquito net with someone fanning me. It was a simple and romantic time.

Pather Panchali opens to its famous sitar-based score by Ravi Shankar, known to many as the guy who popularized sitar music in the 60s and 70s, but to me he’s famous for being Norah Jones’ father. It’s an innocent tune that opens one of cinema’s greatest movies made by one of its most important figures–Satyajit Ray. The movie is as far as it gets from the Hollywood glamour and cardboard cutout sets. It’s even further away than the Italian realist cinema of Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini. It’s set in the developing world of India, in the rural areas of Bengal, made just a decade after India’s independence. The fact that it got made is already a feat of tremendous effort. Satyajit Ray was never a trained director and learned by watching films. He spent years trying to make this movie. That this is his debut feature is astonishing.

But even without knowing all that backdrop, the movie is something to behold. Apu is the son of a priest who lives off of his meager salary while dreaming of being a playwright. His elderly cousin Indir (a fabulous face made for cinema) lives with Apu’s family being a constant pain in the ass to Sarbajaya, Apu’s mom. Apu has an older sister Durga, who cares for him affectionately. The movie revolves around Apu, but it’s filled with vivid characters, such as the elderly Indir, who reminds me of elderly women in the provinces of the Philippines who have long overstayed their welcome. Apu’s mother is a preoccupied and busy lady who frequently spars with Indir, like a daughter-in-law tired of her meddlesome husband’s mother.  The camera observes this family with such tenderness as they weather the seasons of their life. Throughout the movie, we encounter simple joys such as witnessing a train roll by or a visiting play, and also terrible sadness, care of bitter poverty and death.

One of the awards that Pather Panchali won is “Best Human Document” from Cannes, something quite condescending of course coming from a Western institution. But if I took that award literally, Pather Panchali certainly deserves it. Scene after scene is brimming with pleasure. The set is littered with cats, surrounded by overgrown grass or trees, and a stone house that’s somewhat falling apart. There’s always kids in and out of the house, sharing simple joys like making a meal together, or chewing on a sugarcane. I love, LOVE seeing people eat–and it’s something you see often in the movie. You can feel the life in the movie and the humility of people who live in it. It’s also a gorgeous movie–full of very expressive shots of the house and setting and the people who live in it. Whether sun-dappled, or indoors with minimal lighting, Ray and his cinematographer Subrata Mitra come up with some of the most gorgeous still frames I’ve seen. This is what I love about the movie–there’s nothing condescending about it–it’s just simple observation. People living full lives even amidst the daily struggles that greet them. Having seen that life myself, what Pather Panchali captures on film is remarkably accurate.

Pather Panchali is a world treasure–one that needs to be seen by everyone. It’s not cuddly like your average family film, and it knows how to really break your heart. To this day, I’m still haunted by Indir’s very sad song that serves to comfort her. It’s testament to Satyajit Ray’s prodigious talent that a movie about daily life in rural India can bring such tremendous joy with its humble style and unassuming characters. I guess it makes sense that this movie endears itself to me–I saw my little self as Apu running around and playing with kids in Bohol, or teasing my sister and rummaging through her stuff. It’s a delicate and simple movie, but like a distant memory, it’s beautiful and warm.

Favorite Movie #99: Sicario (2015)

Part of My Favorite Things: 100+ of my Favorite Movies Ever

Sicario (2015), dir. Denis Villeneueve, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber.

Capture

I still remember the creeping sensation I felt when I heard that score for the first time. A group of SWAT officers rams into a house full of drug pushers, shoots down every person in the vicinity. After a few minutes of ballistic exchanges, the sound peters away, and a dreadful silence kicks in. This is when you can hear faint traces of the score start to enter. A SWAT officer peels the wall to reveal dead bodies–a gruesome scene. The score wanes but the creepiness has settled.

In another scene, on the bridge to Tijuana, our group of officers, led by Emily Blunt’s Kate and Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro, are stranded in traffic surrounded by cars of armed gang members. The bright, hot light of the desert clashes against the dreadful sound of bored and listless cars honking and motors revving. But then, you hear it: it fades in, almost imperceptibly from the rest of the environment, but I felt my heart pulse with anticipation. The dread has settled in again.

In these two instances, the soundscape that the wizards behind Sicario designed, creates a sense of dread that builds on the editing’s sharp cuts, and brilliant arrangement of these shots that maximizes the tension as each frame tries to imparts a trickle of detail or information about what we’re about to encounter. Roger Deakins shot this movie so incredibly–you can feel the sting of the heat of the dessert from the brightness of his light; or the claustrophobia of a dusty mine shaft tunnel lit with electric lighting hanging from the ceiling. Benicio del Toro plays Alejandro with such unknowable and unpredictable charisma that makes him a menacing figure, especially because no one can be sure of his allegiances just yet. All of these elements of the movie combine for a very tense experience that literally left me breathless with anticipation in my movie seat. But in the end, it’s the sound that lingers.

Sicario is one of a few movies that I can clearly call visceral. It’s an attack of the senses that Villeneuve orchestrates with precision. Sure, there are definitely scenes that are uncomfortable–bodies in plastic bags, cold-blooded murders, and torture. But it’s not  really the images that brings discomfort–it’s what Villeneuve is trying to say with the images. Emily Blunt excels in a role that asks her to embody physically and psychically what every audience member feels when watching this movie. But amidst the terror of her job, coming to realization about the moral gray areas of her job, may be the most daunting for her and the audience. In this respect, Villeneuve’s images paint a grim picture about America’s war on drugs and America’s interventions in other countries.

It’s no surprise that America’s anti-drug crusade has not really produced the kind of success that American leaders would like to espouse: whether at home, where these anti-drug policies disproportionately imprison African Americans; or abroad, where the US government has worked covertly to infiltrate and destroy drug syndicates, only to find another syndicate pop up elsewhere to replace them. Sicario paints a cold picture of this war–it’s an endless battle, one that the US, despite its efforts, cannot end. A line towards the end of the movie from an important character, even places the blame on the US’s hapless past interventions in the region that has left countries unstable, ripe for an overgrown industry built on the illegality of its main products.  The tactics that the US forces use in the film make it difficult to root for them 100 percent. The scary part about these scenes is that I and probably most of the audience know they really happen in the real world.

So who do we root for? Kate, although she is the lead character, doesn’t feel like the main driver of the story, and therefore one really can’t root for her. You know she will be okay. Then, Alejandro? Given the details we’re provided about him, it’s easy to sympathize with his search for vengeance. But at what cost? Sicario wrestles with this very muddy question wonderfully by building subplots that converge nicely into the main plot–something akin to Amores Perros–that really stings when it finally comes together. Even the climax leaves a bitter taste: Alejandro exacts his comeuppance, but it’s terrifying and yet so eerily perfect.

Sicario is best described like that too: it’s terrifying to watch, uncomfortable even, but it’s so eerily perfect how every piece come together to make an unforgettable experience. Thinking about the movie now, I can feel its pulsating sound creeping into my head.

Favorite Movie #100: Neighbors (2014)

Part of A Few of My Favorite Things: My Favorite Movies List

Neighbors (2014), dir. Nicholas Stoller. starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco

There's A Robert De Niro Themed Party in 'Neighbors'

The very first thing you see in Neighbors is Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne being adorable, loving parents to a baby. They’re clearly just learning the ropes and trying (albeit with mixed results) to be the kind of parents that go out and have fun (“Baby’s first rave!”) while still putting up appearances of having their acts together. Two things that really got my attention here:

  • Seth Rogen being adorable is not surprising, but watching him play a guy who’s not an absolute fuck-up is bananas to me because I think of him as a pothead dufus in a lot of stoner movies. After all, this is the guy who fucked up gloriously on Knocked Up, played an irresponsible (but totally cool for a kid) cop in Superbad, another stoner in Pineapple Express, and plays his toner self in This is the End. In all these movies, a big plot point seem to revolve around getting wasted or high. His character Mac, however, felt to me like a grown up version of the lovable fuck-ups he used to play. This time, he just plays a normal guy, with a regular job, and a wife and kid, and a house in the suburbs. The fact that he still smokes weed here is almost (almost) irrelevant to the story. Mac is a full-fledged adult with concerns so relatable to me now that it strikes me as uncharacteristic of the persona Seth Rogen has established.
  • Rose Byrne is a dynamite comedienne with excellent comic timing and instincts, that is startling if outside of this or Bridesmaids, you’re only familiar with her work from Damages. I think she’s better when she’s being funny than when she’s starring in a drama.

From my vantage point, I relate to Mac and Kelly’s post-collegiate adult life. No, I don’t have a kid, but I feel the exhaustion of being an adult with responsibilities with limited time for personal fun. The first joke about going out with friends really crack me up: How many times have I been in their place where I make such an effort to get dressed up only to land in bed asleep before even making it out of the door? Even seeing the videos of their friend having a blast the morning after cuts too close to home.

Things heat up in Neighbors when a fraternity led by chiseled Zac Efron move in next door. Zac Efron has always been best when he’s not super earnest (except maybe HSM, where he was totally and effortlessly charming), and Teddy is the most perfect encapsulation of his dopey lunkhead persona.

Once Teddy is introduced, Neighbors milk the tension that exists between young adults getting their act together, as personified by Mac and Kelly, and even younger adults just on the cusp of having to get their act together, as embodied by Teddy. This tension plays out in hilarious pranks and clever gags—the airbags, the dick molds, and my favorite: a Robert De Niro party featuring an out of place Sam Jackson impersonation (from the wrong movie too, but points for QT references).

Still, despite the silliness of the movie, I always find joy in seeing these actors embrace the silliness, and add some color to characters that can veer into cliché. Teddy for instance, puts up appearances of being a total tool, but is still the sweetest friend—his loyalty to his best friend, making an ultimate sacrifice on his behalf; giving a pass to a pledger, or just the disarming way he puts his trust into Mac and Kelly, and the initial betrayal he felt. These are all played with utter sincerity by Efron, that makes you really feel for Teddy’s character at the end. Ditto Seth’s buffoonery, which always softens when playing against a cuddly baby; and Rose Byrne, whose comic impulses are just always on the mark.

Neighbors doesn’t feel incomplete, and the sequel certainly feels like an unnecessary retread. It’s full of silly laughs, none of which are mean, that can really brighten my day. I mean, who doesn’t like watching Zac Efron just be a total hottie? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

My Life Through Movies: My 100+ Favorite Movies or Why I Love Them

I was in High School when I first understood cinema, as defined by Martin Scorsese. I totally subscribe to Scorsese’s comments on the state of movies today and think that the big tentpole movies these days care feel more disposable and impersonal than ever. Which is a sad thing to see. For me, movies have been a big part of my life–it’s an experience I share with friends or family, or complete strangers. However, it’s also my most favorite way of spending alone time. Movies to me have been a way of experiencing things–love, loss, joy, sadness, fear, anger. At their very best, when I connect with a movie, I suddenly see my life up there, or it becomes my escape from whatever mess I find myself in. Over the years, I’ve watched so many movies, but a few remain very dear to my hear. Since I’m obsessed with lists and I finished my 100 Best Movies list a few years ago, this list has been a long time coming. What’s the difference between Best and Favorite? Well Favorite are movies that despite their flaws are etched into my soul. As such, I can just keep going about why I love them and since we’re all stuck indoors for a while, why not?

Image result for purple rose of cairo

Why do I want to write about them? A) I love lists and I love reading people’s favorites. I figured why not share mine! B) I’ve always wanted to keep a diary or do a journal of my life experience, and I figured why not do it through movies? C) It gives me an excuse to really think through my experience with these movies and why I love them. This list is not exclusively 100 movies–I tried to keep it to that number, but some movies are tied together in memory and inseparable to one another. Hope you enjoy reading!

100. Neighbors (2014) – Zac Efron + Seth Rogen + Rose Byrne make a killer movie about being a young adult.

99. Sicario (2015) – Denis Villeneuve makes a terrifying movie about the US drug war. An amazing sound experience

98. Easy A (2010) – Emma Stone’s entrance heralds the arrival of a true superstar.

97. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962) and The Lion in Winter (1968) – Kate Hepburn’s pinnacle and how I got started on my movie love.

96.  Raising Victor Vargas (2002) and Akeelah and the Bee (2006) – The two sweetest movies about adolescence that remind me of growing up in the Bronx.

95. Pather Panchali (1955) – A world treasure that reminds me of my childhood summers in Bohol. Innocent, humble, exquisite.

94. Kramer vs Kramer (1979) and Ordinary People (1980) – Two Best Picture winners, two complicated mommies played by legends.

93. Modern Times (1936) – Charlie Chaplin offers a social commentary about labor in America while still being funny, witty, and heartfelt.

92. Audition (1999) – Takashi Miike’s horror masterpiece has earned a reputation for disturbing imagery — but not for its terrific examination of loneliness. Kirikirikiri

91. The Piano Teacher (2001) and Elle (2016) – A tribute to Isabelle Huppert mysterious actressing in over 100+ movies.

90. What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993) – I love Angela Bassett’s fierce performance as Tina Turner in this exciting biopic.

89. You’re Next (2011) – I found my most satisfying slasher movie experience and it’s tied to an excellent take on intergenerational wealth. Final girl joins the ranks of Ellen Ripley.

91. “Insiang”, Lino Brocka (1976)

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List.

Insiang

Insiang

dir. Lino Brocka (1976) scr. Mario O’Hara and Lamberto E. Antonio, based on a story by Mario O’Hara cin. Conrado Baltazar with Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal, Rez Cortez, Marlon Ramirez

In 100 words: Dubbed an “immorality tale” by its director, Insiang stuns and repels with its opening shot of a pig being slaughtered. A neorealistic melodrama set in the slums of Manila, Brocka heightens the claustrophobia with deft camerawork, while the cacophonic sound mix and creeping, insistent musical cues add menace and desperation. These features accrue visceral thrill as the titular heroine imperceptibly goes from battered victim to merciless monster. A pointed analysis of toxic masculinity and pervasive societal indecency bred by urban poverty, the film may linger on conversations about escaping the slums, but bleakly suggests that may not be an option.

Other Movies for Context: A National Artist for Philippine Cinema, Lino Brocka has an extensive filmography that varies wildly in quality (and availability). I’m a big fan of his most well-known work, Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), which battled Insiang in my mind as Brocka’s best. Insiang may be my personal favorite from his films, but You Were Weighed but Found Wanting (1974) opened my eyes to his work, and it’s great. Loathe as I am to advocate for “poverty porn”, but many of the Filipino directors today owe a lot to Brocka’s influence, including Brillante Mendoza, Marlon Rivera, and Aureaus Solito. Key works from them include Mendoza’s Serbis (2007), Rivera’s The Woman in the Septic Tank (2012), and Solito’s The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005).

94. “Talk to Her”, Pedro Almodovar (2002)

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Talk to Her

Talk to Her aka Hable con Ella

dir. Pedro Almodovar scr. Pedro Almodovar cin. Javier Aguirresarobe with Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores

In 100 Words: A complex portrayal of devotion, Almodovar’s masterpiece audaciously blurs the line between love and obsession, care and harm, all the while testing the limits of his audience’s sympathies and moral boundaries. Inspired by dance, older films, and music, his formal control here—emotionally charged colors, expressive design and cinematography, haunting score—adds dimensions to a script that perversely refuses to demonize its characters’ worst impulses and transgressions. But beyond its technical sublimity, this is the rare film to depict men who have feminine qualities without questioning their masculinity, while exploring the different ways people choose to communicate with each other.

Other Movies for Context: I adore Pedro Almodovar, and his filmography is divine, always smartly mixing melodrama with farce and comedy, while still being able precise about human sexuality, how they relate to one another, etc. I’ll start with Volver (2006), my personal favorite of his, along with All About My Mother (1999) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) is pretty good too, even if it is a little icky, storywise.

 

96. “Breathless”, Jean-Luc Godard (1960)

Part of the 100 Greatest Films I’ve Ever Seen list.

breathless

Breathless aka À bout de souffle

dir. Jean-Luc Godard (1960) scr. Jean-Luc Godard based on a story by Francois Truffaut cin. Raoul Coutard with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg

In 100 words: Released in 1960 and forever changing the face of cinema, Breathless embodies the spirit of the French New Wave by essentially chucking the rigid rules of old movies out the window and playfully experimenting with form. The film was shot with a realistic vibe that approximated documentaries, invented new ways of shooting and cutting films, and created a sound that mixed colorful selections of jazz and Parisian street noise. But most importantly, Breathless effortlessly bridges the old and the new: it is a lovely homage to the films of yesteryear while it simultaneously points the direction for the medium’s future.

Other Films for Context: Godard is arguably the most famous and most important director of the French New Wave, making a lot of movies during the decade that influenced countless directors since. My favorite from the ones I’ve seen of his is Vivre sa vie (1962), a gorgeously shot and easy to follow movie. Other films of his I’ve seen include the overrated Contempt (1963) and the interesting Alphaville (1965). Towards the end of the decade, his works have started becoming more political and experimental to the point of being obnoxious–Weekend (1967) is a prime example of this turn.