The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster, released in 2015, marked the debut of the Greek filmmaker – Yorgos Lanthimos into English films; he directed, co-wrote and co-produced it. This absurd comedy is dystopian and could be characterised by its continuous lack of emotions portrayed in the film. It is the description of a world where being single is a criminal act – and people are sent to a hotel where they are supposed to find another mate in 45 days, or they would be turned into an animal of their choice. The protagonist David (Colin Farrell) has been left by his wife for another man, and is hence escorted to the hotel to find a suitable partner for himself. He is an aging man, with average looks, and in that sense, he represents a perspective that could be extended to anyone watching the film. He is shown to have little to no self-awareness initially, and that is the feel of the entire film.

The movie is slow-paced but interesting, ominous yet funny at certain points, and reminded me in some ways of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (a better movie, in my opinion). Dystopian stories are always interesting to the effect that they portray a deeper sense of fear of society in a way that can only be understood if we focus on the current world we live in. While Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is deals with a more personal desire, a desire to get rid of all memories that are painful (and the fear that that concept is flawed and painful by itself), The Lobster deals with a more ordinary fear – a fear of being alone. The movie has an absurd plot, and the importance of being a couple is greatly exaggerated in this dystopian movie. And why not? In our current society, a lot of importance is placed on the existence of romantic love and how to find it. This may be in the form of advertisements, films, music and any other media that is consumed by the masses. The industry around Valentine’s day is pegged to be around Rs. 15 billion in India alone, keeping in account the six days leading up to it. Indian films are not exempt from this obsession of happy endings in terms of romantic love. The need to belong to a couple is recreated by advertisements everyday – take the example of Closeup toothpaste advertising. Not only this, an app like Tinder is generating huge amounts of traffic, with close to 800 million swaps in a day and more than 1,00,000 subscribers around the world, and this is just Tinder; there are a variety of other similar apps that people use. The notion of needing to find a romantic interest, in whatever form, is heavy and undeniably strong.

In this scenario, The Lobster does not seem as outlandish an idea. People in the film are supposed to find one matching quality between each other which will then be approved by authorities to be appropriate. Since none of the people in the film (other than David) are given names, I will use the characteristics that we know about them, that eventually become their defining characteristics. The man with the limp hits his face hard against a surface to be able to get frequent nosebleeds so that he could match with another woman who seemingly got nosebleeds for no reason. This characteristic of getting nose bleeds randomly is seen to be an acceptable criteria of match-making in the film. Other such characteristics include heartlessness, short-sightedness, having a limp, and possibly even liking butter cookies. These shallow ways of looking at people becomes the heart of the film, drawing inspiration from the world we actually live in.

In such a world, the conversations between people with the intention of finding a suitable partner are absurd and vexatious in nature. There is no real discussion, and the characters are reduced to being robotic when it comes to dealing with other people. This hostile scenario has also led to the beginning of a group of people who are all single, and live outside of the law, in a jungle. This is the part of the film that was relatively weaker in my opinion, and I yearned to see more of the inside of the hotel and how people behaved there. However, amidst the people who were single, being a couple was forbidden. Any kind of flirting was punishable. David is then thrown into a scenario where not being able to find a couple results in death, and finding a perfect partner for himself is impossible, even after he meets the woman who is short sighted (Rachel Weisz), who had been narrating the story the whole time. Her narration is flaccid and unappealing, completely in harmony with the rest of the film. The way the actors speak, as well, made me feel like they were reading from a script directly without emoting it all, which adds to the feeling of how robotic they had become.

So what is the real fear the movie is trying to portray? Is it the fear of being alone? It seems like the movie’s ultimate discomfort lies in the fact that choosing romance and love has become too automated and shallow, that it is difficult to judge why exactly a partner is required at all. If falling in love and getting married is only so to the purpose of having company while growing old, someone to save you when you are drowning or choking, or even getting raped, love becomes a futile concept. This futility is described in the film in full detail, with love being a process for both the protagonists. Is this futility a symbol of our world today, where the process of finding love or even sex becomes a matter of quick judgment and superficial thinking? If you believe this to be a crucial way in looking at romance and sex, then this movie is a wonderful commentary about what we should be fearing if we keep heading towards this path.

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Miyazaki and his food

There is not much about Hayao Miyazaki I can write that hasn’t been written already, and his sense of animation that is simply exemplary. It is detailed, very real looking in spite of the heavy use of watercolors and animation, and most of the times, aesthetically beautiful – in terms of views and in terms of food. For example, consider this frame-still from From Up The Poppy Hill, one of my favourite Miyazaki films.

From up the poppy hill

The characters in his films are well-rounded and interesting. The treatment of his female characters is not like most other film-makers. They are given importance whilst also being fair to the male characters, and treating gender as a coincidence. It is fresh to watch a movie like that. But one of the things in his films that is captivating endlessly is how he weaves food into his stories. The movies that I have watched that Miyazaki has made (wrote for, directed, produced and/or animated) have been peppered with beautiful references related to cooking and food. Food is a comfort numerous times in his films – as safety, as guarantees, as familiarity and even as nostalgia. Cooking is an act performed out of a sense of love and duty, and not just to satisfy a hunger.

In From Up The Poppy Hill, Umi cooks food for the entire household, and is quite good at it – making her own lunches to take to school, and quite elaborate ones. Even something as simple as spooning rice out of a container is not devoid of the steam that the rice is producing. A simple mish-mash breakfast with ham, eggs, and vegetables reminds one of communal eating that Umi was responsible for, since her mother was away studying in America. We see her dream of her mother in the kitchen and cooking, showing her fear and her need for her mother, and that in the act of cooking was where her mother’s love was being missed. The people of the household depended on her for delicious food, and she yearned for the dependence on her mother, especially during times of distress.

However, she is regular with her cooking everyday at her home, and is sometimes the only person to be doing to cooking. In fact, it is noted that her interest in her school magazine and working for it, was a hindrance to this daily duty, and in spite of that, Umi is determined and strong-willed. Accomplishing both everyday, even though she is in a rush while tending to both the things, Umi’s character instantly becomes likable and strong. This similar theme of a hard-working young woman is seen in a lot of Miyazaki films, even in Ponyo, in the form of Lisa, Sosuke’s mother.

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Lunch made by Umi for school

 

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The communal eating is extremely emphasised several times, as we also see this when the household sits down to eat. This is also a nostalgic theme that is brought to life by animated food. Eating together is of significant importance in many different cultures, including the Japanese culture. It shows camaraderie of a deeper notion – one of familial ties. It is quite commonly known that families who eat together, stay together. However, in this film, Umi lives in a boarding home, and in spite of no familial ties with each other, the women living here are amazing friends, and tend to have their meals together. The appreciation of diversity of women living in this boarding home is apparent in the short film which does not fail to give them highly dimensional characters.

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As a vegetarian, the feelings of hunger that Miyazaki films evoke in me are confusing. The clip below of Umi frying fish is deliciously distracting in terms of what real food is like. Fish need not be something I actually like in real life, for me to enjoy looking at it being cooked in thick, bubbling oil, the sound of sizzle making it a very realistic expression of food.

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In fact, in Ponyo too, food is comfort. After surviving a major flood around their town, Ponyo (a goldfish who has turned into a human child), Sosuke (a young boy of 5) and Lisa (Sosuke’s mother) come home, there is no electricity and they are dripping wet. In such a condition, all they can make is noodles and hot chocolate with honey. It is similar to the notion of craving pakoras, or Maggi (both served hot) when it’s raining and cold. This is the first time Ponyo has ever had honey or real food (other than a little ham Sosuke feeds her when she is still a fish), and her excitement for the food is infectious. Little motherly affection is showered on her, as shown in the film, while she is still a fish. Someone cooking food and feeding you is something she has never experienced, especially such appetizing meals after a difficult day. Lisa is generous and loving towards her, wiping her with a towel after coming back home. Even with a disaster lurking outside, food makes the inside of their home warm and gratifying.

ponyo

Here is also a little clip from Howl’s Moving Castle with some exceptional-looking bacon and eggs.

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On the other hand, Spirited away shows food in a slightly contrarian tone. Chihiro’s parents would never have transformed into pigs, had they listened to her about not knowing how to pay for the big spread of a feast. The feast was supposed to be tempting and Chihiro’s parents gave into the temptation, and here, it is almost gluttony that Miyazaki is antagonising.

Parents eating like pigs

The change of her parents into pigs because of the food reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell.

In Spirited Away, however, food is in excess, and yet Chihiro lives in fear and confusion, trying to save her parents somehow. The majestic spreads of food are not at all tempting for her now that she feels she has lost her parents forever and might never find them. No amount of lavish food could make her feel better, and there is a lot of food. Even from the perspective of the viewer, the Spirit World is scary and uncomfortable, and the food is definitely not trustworthy (it was probably what turned her parents into pigs). This distrust of food is unique and surprising, but in tone with the overall importance of using food to express discomfort or comfort, both – something Miyazaki is very skilled at doing.Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason, and not everything is that. This relationship between humans and food has been a long one, and a lot of cultural factors shape what is or is not comfort food. Homely meals, generally, are comfort foods. Why that is so, is quite obvious. A feeling of homelessness and identity crisis is primarily depicted in our lives in the form of food. The different variety of tastes and ways of cooking have been instilled into our minds, and newer tastes might not be as welcome. A heavy, scrumptious meal every time one eats is exhausting and boring. Comfort food is not fancy – it is simple and everyday – rice, some meat, eggs, and such for the Japanese culture. Similarly, as I mentioned above, Maggi and pakoras are comfort food because they evoke a certain sense of nostalgia of being cooked for at home, or communally deciding to eat a particular item. These are not foods best enjoyed alone.

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On the other hand, in The Grave Of The Fireflies, even a small tin can of candy or a jar of pickled plums holds value for the comfort of both Seita and Setsuko. It is the only thing left of their home and their previously beautiful lives, and they hold on to to (along with their mother’s linen) and their dwindling state in the war-torn Japan only gets worse as they lose their familiar belongings.

Candy in the Grave of the Fireflies

It is rare to see what filmmakers do with food in their films. It is undeniably one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. A lot of the audiences are people who eat three times a day, and food is the sustenance that is a part of every celebration or sadness. The lack of food brings sadness and gloom, and the excess of it seems wasteful and extravagant – giving filmmakers a great tool to describe the world they are recreating.

Fortunately for Miyazaki, he has already figured it out.

I. D. (2012)

There has been a surge of paid online movie watching services, and with the hard beating down on piracy, they have gained a traction that is highly appreciable. It is nice to know that HotStar provides Game of thrones on a paid basis as the same time as it is telecast in the US, and that the makers of such a show are getting paid a lot of money to maintain the exceedingly amazing production value of the show (that has garnered a lot of popularity in India). Netflix is another welcome addition, albeit the lack of certain films and television shows. This is not to say that I am complaining because it still offers a wide variety of films and shows to watch, once you pay for a decently priced subscription. It brings audiences to the correct films, I feel, just the way it brought this movie in my notice.

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I.D. is a movie that was released in 2012, directed by Kamal K. M. with Geetanjali Thapa (who eventually went on to win the National Film Award for Best Film Actress in 2013, unsurprisingly so) as the protagonist. The film starts with a simple yet engaging premise, one that impressed me greatly. A worker comes to Charu’s (Geetanjali Thapa) residences that she shares with her friends, having newly moved to the city of Mumbai, for an odd paint job. Here, he collapses as he is working, and she has to, for lack of choice, take him to the hospital. The rest of the movie just revolves around how she tries to find the identity of this man, whose name is unknown to her – which is rightly addressed in the film, “Aisa kaun puchhta hai?” (Translation: “Who asks such a thing?”).

The movie outline looks simple enough on the Netflix page (and I am trying to make it a point not to IMDb the movie before watching it these days), and has a poor rating. However, the film has a taken a very simple storyline and very subtly shown to us the different sides of Mumbai – the culture of apathy from a particular group of people thriving on drama and mischief, or the culture of concern or indifference by another group when Charu is out looking for the identity of this man – who had no identity proof on him (a point I think the film was trying to make). There is one particular scene that I really thought was tastefully done – when Charu returns home to a party after ensuring the man was safe at the hospital, and the ebbing apathy of her friends and flatmates about the life of a man. The movie makes one think; it was an incident that could happen to anyone of us living on our own, meeting people in a cursory manner that we don’t even bother to know their name. The reaction of the people around Charu, and herself included, make one uncomfortable and thoughtful – what would one have done in such a situation as this? What would you have done? How long would you have taken responsibility for a man you had had nothing to do with, but whose family was probably waiting for him?

The movie drops several different commentaries whilst taking us through the slums of Rafeeq Nagar – about someone seeing the man Charu is looking for probably fall from a train (which would even explain why he collapsed while working at her place), about a shopkeeper responding rudely to Charu showing the man’s photograph around with the explanation that the slum-dwellers felt that media persons had abandoned the story of BMC demolishing hutments in Rafeeq Nagar and were angered due to it, and even a very slight glimpse into the life of transgendered persons in the slum area. This gave the film a feel of documentary-style showcasing of real-life events done with an exquisite amount of a research and a brilliant performance by Geetanjali Thapa. It is obvious why she won the best actress awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Madrid Film Festival for this very movie. At this point, I have to point out the great job she did in the movie, and that I cannot wait to watch Liar’s Dice, for which she won the National Film Award.

The value of life has been very cheap since ages, and this film portrayed that very fact in a very succinct and meaningful manner. The story is simple yet well-executed – with great scenes inside a Mumbai apartment, but also in the murky slums of Bombay. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone and everyone – whether it is a deep commentary of city-life you are looking for, or just an interesting and intriguing storyline to keep you engaged.

Beneath old houses

They generally check every corner, I was told.

They generally look at everything, they told me.

They will generally scrap out the metal taste from your mouth,

And fill your perfume bottles with rancid breath.

You won’t fool them, I was told.

 

They will enter with footsteps unheard,

Scratching the walls with bloody fingernails.

It took me so long to hide everything behind yellowing wallpaper,

That this is all the wall is anymore.

 

But underneath the numerous

 

Broken things,

Dusty celings,

Footprint-coated dust…

They will find frozen poetry,

Barely breathing.

 

And everything will be still.

There will be colour of the words,

And the wrinkles of a silent sigh.

And everything will vanish and

Vapourise with a rotten-ness,

Tangible enough to feed on.

 

Or,

 

When I will hold up my day tomorrow,

Under crooked light,

It will break and ebb

And I will realise that I have

 

Nothing to write of.

Your reality

There is so much satisfaction in the beauty of your filthy hands,

and in the largesse of your arms.

That the edge of the blade is a mere disturbance

In what this life has become.

 

Fragments of kisses, dewy and cool,

A calling of cheer and stagnancy of your hands,

That the white-washed walls will bring me to you

Again, from the rancid growth of a horrifying curse.

 

The premonition of a familiar kind,

Grows in sentiments of convoluted thoughts

Across the beat of your chest.

 

But as long as you live on in my dreams,

There will be no life in this infected mind.

 

And no life, indeed, there will be!

Throughout the singleness of a careless idea,

Like the burning of a hungry man,

The death of an unwilling life,

There will be pauses to understand the simplicity of it all.

But there will be no suffering in disguise.

 

I can either find the sentence that tells me what to do

Or I can survive this night and look for you tomorrow.

There is no escape from what this ground demands

Of a woman like me.

So sinful, so old.

So dead.

 

And while you kiss me across my chest,

So balmy and warm,

I look across your body and through the window.

And I see outside as how inside is.

The flowers they fade, and the grass has curled.

Now there is darkness, and darkness is my world.