Category Archives: Off the screen

Films. Movies. TV.

The Salt of the Earth

In 2013, when Sebastiao Salgado’s ‘Genesis’ photo exhibition was premiered in the Natural History Museum in London, I had the urge to fly into London just to see the exhibition. Such was the draw of a photographer who seemed to me both adventurer and artist, a winning combination of a dream life. It would have been extravagant for me to make that trip to London. Fortunately a year later, the ‘Genesis’ exhibition  travelled to Singapore and I got to see them in the National Museum.

The 2014 film ‘The Salt of the Earth’ is about Salgado and the extraordinary images that he has captured throughout 40 years. Some of the most stunning and seemingly unbelievable images are that of the Serra Pelada goldmines of Brazil where swarms of people climb up ladders in ant like fashion – these photographs froze in time the height and madness of the gold rush. In the photographer’s own words, “when I reached the edge of that enormous hole, in a split second I saw unfolding before me the history of mankind. The building of the pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the mines of King Solomon”.

Salgado built his career and name as a social photographer: his photos of war, grief, poverty and suffering brought the world’s attention to these plights. These are not photographs that are easy to see. What goes through a person’s mind when thrusted upon with the sight of cholera, corpses and genocide in 1980s-90s Africa? A photographer isn’t just an image-maker, he or she is also a story teller, a quality which Salgado also demonstrated through his compassionate narration in the film. And yet the photographer’s job requires the unflinching steely clicks of the camera to tell the story as it is.

The ‘Genesis’ series remain my favourite: these photographs take us to the Galapagos islands (once my dream islands!), the paw of a Galapagos iguana that reminds me of a sequined ladies’ glove, the human-like penguin colonies in the Antarctic, the eye of a whale peeking out from her oceanic home, the depths of the Amazonian jungle with polyandry ladies of the Zo’e tribe and more. The photographs remind us of our pristine natural world. And in my case, sowing more (if that’s even possible) seeds of wanderlust.

I just watched this film today at a film festival and I highly recommend it!

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

I love films about food. Films with a food theme are seldom just about food: Julie & JuliaLike Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate), Eat Drink Man Woman and Ratatouille depict bonds that are forged, broken and reconciled over food. One of human’s basest instincts is not merely satisfied by consumption, but also the experiential discernment in taste and the interwoven complexities of tradition, pride and innovation (or resistance thereto!). 

The Hundred-Foot Journey – directed by Lasse Hallström (director of yet another food movie that I like, Chocolat) – tells the story of cultures separated by the titular “hundred-foot’. A family of tandoori restaurateurs from India, the Kadams, first sought asylum in the UK, and then moved to Europe because “the vegetables of England have no soul, no life”. In their quest of finding a new home, the family settled in a small village in France near the Swiss border (apparently the idyllic location was filmed in the Midi Pyrenees – one of the regions I have lusted for a while!) There, they set up Maison Mumbai, a mere 100 feet away from the one-Michelin star French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur run by the uppity Madame Mallory. As her new neighbours open their restaurant, Madame Mallory bemoans “the death of class”. Competition ensues.

Like any other good movie about food, this film is a visual feast: luxuriant plump tomatos, tandoori over crackling fire, and multiple shots of golden perfect yolks sliding into glass bowls, ready to be whipped into a fluffy omelette or emulsified into scintillating hollandaise. I’m getting hungry as I write this – be sure you don’t watch the movie on an empty stomach.

Yes, it’s a ‘feel-good’ movie. It is about food, and it is comforting. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is a film that is impossible to pigeon hole. Wes Anderson’s latest creation is a dazzling delight. The grand hotel in the title is located in a fictitious European alpine mountain with a lobby boy immigrant from a fictitious country in the East. But the evocation of high society’s grandeur against the hardships of the times is real.

The story centres on M. Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes), an idiosyncratic, vain but principled concierge whose class service recalls a time when institutions like The Grand Budapest Hotel were the standard to bear. He takes on a young pupil, the new lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and it is through the lobby boy’s eyes that the story is told. As for the plot? It is everything I love about films: a story within a story, a swashbuckling sweep of adventure, romance, humour, feuds, murder mystery, prison break (every good adventure story in my books need to have a prison break or two) and ski chase.

The film is exactingly stylish and rhythmically rhapsodical. Every frame is planned to the dot. Yet it flows and oozes with nostalgia. It is a film about genteel manners, of a time past. But the film is also about the human bond and loyalty, and that is timeless.

 

Silent film – The Artist

I don’t usually go to the cinemas on a weekday. On pure chance invite by a friend and blind faith, we watched this marvellous black & white silent film The Artist directed & written by Michel Hazanavicius.

Yes, you read that right: it’s a black & white silent film. This French production is funny, poignant, bittersweet and pure delight.

Won’t say too much here. I would certainly recommend this movie!

Enchanting Midnight in Paris

It’s really not hard to be charmed by Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest creation and love letter to Paris. Probably anyone who loves the City of Lights would find even more reason to enjoy the movie. In a way, Midnight in Paris portrayed what I think is most beautiful and charming about Paris – the night.

The movie itself is very beautifully made, almost magical – in sync with the fantasy elements of the story: the movie opens with a series of postcard-like montages of iconic Parisian landmarks and then the picturesque lily pond which perhaps inspired Monet. The main character, an American writer Gil (played by Owen Wilson) visits Paris with his fiance and her parents. While wandering through Paris at midnight, he steps into the 1920s, and soon he meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter, Picasso, Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali. In real life, Paris was the mecca for these writers, artists and musicians. In Gil’s fantastical escapades, the bohemian nostalgia is enhanced by the cinematographic effects of golden hues, rosy tints and warm soft lighting, which just made everything glow, and Owen Wilson even blonder.

Some may find Gil’s infatuation with Paris silly. But bathed in such romanticism peered through rose tinted lenses (and literally so), Midnight in Paris, to this tourist is very swoon-worthy. Suddenly, I wish I was in Paris again.

Israelis & English

Watched a couple of movies last week.

(I)

I managed to drag a friend – who then dragged another mutual friend – to catch a movie at the 19th Israeli Film Festival. At my suggestion, we watched The Matchmaker directed by Avi Nesher.

First of all, I didn’t know that this is the 19th time that an Israeli Film Festival has been held in Singapore. The only reason I spotted this one was because I saw a big poster of it at a cinema one day. I wonder where else was it publicised. Secondly, it seems like there are many film festivals going on in town lately. There’s another one that’s on-going now – the Singapore International Film Festival. Don’t get me wrong; I love watching movies. These film fests screen quite a number of films, most of which come with promising synopses. But perhaps because of the limited budget and/or promotional impetus, these movies are only screened once or twice. So timing choices for viewers are limited.

The Matchmaker is a gem, although my companions did not seem as enthusiastic as me (partly because of seating – we were 3 rows away from the screen). The movie is a bit of a coming-of-age tale, set against the backdrop of a Mediterranean-esque seaside town of Haifa, with an array of characters and a variety of plotlines. I especially liked Maya Dagan’s performance as Clara, a woman whose elegant sophisticated exterior belies the fragility and broken sparrow beneath. The titular character, the Matchmaker, played by Adir Miller, is in love with Clara. Slightly scarred and a limp, he is a smooth talker with his clients and potential matches and takes on the role as mentor to his summer apprentice (through whose eyes we see the story unfold), seldom betraying his tortured past and his shadowed present.

(II)

He’s dapper. He’s got cutting-edge tech gadgets. And he works for MI7. This goofball version of James Bond doesn’t get any funnier with all the action sequences, espionage, British accents, superhuman physical comedy (the way Rowan Atkinson twitches his eyelids is baffling)  and a risky brush with the subject of Her Majesty herself.

For a roaring laughing good time, catch Johnny English Reborn.