Saturday, July 26, 2008

Annie Hall

Once I had little patience with Woody Allen - he always seemed to play a self-obsessed neurotic character who just couldn’t stop talking. I suspect that I may have grown out of my short attention spans now – and that is perhaps the reason I am able to appreciate his movies far more. That could be a possible explanation of why I liked Annie Hall where Allen plays another of his neurotic characters. It was a very perceptive, if funny take on relationships and how complicated they are.
The movie is about the relationship between Alvy Singer, an 'anal' Jewish comedian and equally neurotic singer Annie Hall, who go through the usual mess of relationships - issues in bed, levels of commitment, dating blues and finally the problems of fundamental differences which makes them go seperate ways. (Literally). At every point you are wondering why they split up since they do love each other and are quite happy together. But as Allen puts it bluntly:
"I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.
And how often is it true that people are unable to feel safe and nestled in relationships that make them happy. Perhaps we are so insecure about the fading away of that happiness that we would rather see this death earlier than live in a dreaded anticipation for a long time. Is it that fundamentally we believe that we do not deserve true love or happiness? If we dread the end, the end already has landed on us and the relationship cannot really move forward, and thus in a way we bring about the end of our relationships ourselves.

The movie has a lot other things that make it a great film of wit - flashbacks in Bergman style, Alvy often speaking to the camera directly, Annie's spirit rising from the bed - everything that make it worthwhile to watch. But its brilliance is in its recongnition of the fundamental truth of the above lines.

Friday, July 25, 2008


It is almost a week since I have been living in this city. It is a pretty city, and it helps that I am living in the downtown, in a nice hotel-apartment on 30th floor where I can look down at the city glittering in its lights. There are a few libraries, theatres and performing arts centers around, which I have yet to explore. Sometimes, especially when you are alone, there are wide swings between extreme determination to get out of doors and a complete laziness to even move an inch. I think I am more in the latter stage, and I hope to move out of it soon. May be the International Film Festival beginning on 31st will help.
To stay alone in a new city is an experience - a feeling of isolation and longing interspersed with an excitement of independence. I don't know if I love it, but it is definitely worth going through once in a while. If only I did not have someone to miss at home :(

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Going to be in Brisbane for next three months - not sure if I will have get a net connection there during off-work hours. So might just not spend enough time here :(

Friday, July 11, 2008

Secrets & Lies

In the last few days, have spent a lot of time watching movies - on my TV screen, on the laptop, and even smaller versions - on the minuscule video screens in the flights. Some of them have been quite rewarding - most specifically Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies. It was almost a delight to watch, not in the least for its happy ending, which amidst a score of tragic tales of most good cinema seemed like a welcome breeze. It is the story of a working class white woman (Cynthia), who has an illegitimate daughter . However, in a few clouded conversations between her brother Maurice and his wife, we learn that somewhere there was another illegitimate child who was given up for adoption even before Cynthia could see the newborn. (In fact, most of what we learn of the movie is through these clouded conversations between different people) . Parallely, we also see a black young optometrist (Hortense) trying to find out about her real parents.

When the two woman finally meet as Hortense tracks down her mother, is the most powerful and well-played out scene in the movie. Cynthia is surprised at seeing a black woman and is convinced that there is something wrong with the records, but the slow sinking in of reality is so momentous - with horror, excitement, affection and a terrible despair, all emotions rushing
in with force and awkwardness.

There are so many secrets in the movie - everyone is terrified of opening up and baring themselves, as if there will be an explosion if they do so. With all these secrets, there is a terrible restraint in all relationships, which stay coldly cordial on the surface, and you can perceive the constant stretching, until everything explodes at a family gathering.

Almost everything was right with the movie - the strong characters and actors who adopted those characters with an entirety, the build-up of the tension, specially at the family reunion, the subtlety of every scene and the helplessness of Maurice, who is stretched with all these secrets between his love for his wife and his sister's family.The scenes of his photo shoots, where he works hard to create illusions and hide the secrets between families with his happy pictures, are a metaphoric summarizing of what he also does in his personal life. On the other hand is Hortense, who, as an optometrist, wants to see things clearly, without any haziness. With her composure and sophistication, she is a contrast to the entire family, who spend the majority of their lives in a state of high emotional tension.

I remember that a long time ago I saw a french movie on a similar theme, where an unspoken secret keeps a family apart for years, until at a funeral the daughters succumb to the tension and speak out. It was a brilliant movie and equally well done. I am breaking my head over trying to find the name - without success so far. Anyone?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Radetzky March

I have spent the last few days amongst ghosts. The more literal (and talkative) ghosts of Juan Rulfo's magnificent work Pedro Paramo, the haunting ones of Sebald's Emigrants (which I am still reading), and if these were not enough, the ghost of an entire empire speaking through the sombre voice of Joseph Roth in The Radetzky March.
I tried and tried to find the Michel Hoffman translation of this illustrious work, but found only the version translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Before reading, I had read enough about the superior quality of the former, and the wanting standards of latter. May be I do not have the ability to judge translations, but I was quite moved by the version I read. It was masterful story-telling, which was neither dense nor complicated, but a simple narration about an empire which suddenly found itself hung between changing times.

The novel is set in the Austro-Hungarian empire, where Roth had served in the army, and which he was quite nostalgic about for all his life. However, in stead of directly outlining the decline of this empire, in a creative stroke, Roth exchanged the empire with the Von Trotta family and described the empire's fate only in so much as it affected the fate of this family. The novel moves through three generations of the family, and each von Trotta is in many ways a constrained man. The largest part of the story revolves around the youngest generation, Carl Joseph Von Trotta, who is a very weak man, forever caught between the lure of duty (as chracterized by the playing of the Radetzky March) and his lack of conviction towards any ideas. He often considers leaving the army, but does not have the motivation to look for a civilian job, and hangs around in anticipation.

In fact, the entire novel is about anticipation. The empire is on a verge of change, and therefore in the chaotic stage where the old order is not respected enough and a new order is not formed yet. This abatement is very beautifully played out by Roth, may be because he felt this abeyance throughout his life after his exile from Austria.

There is so much in the book that makes it a superior work. There is the experience of an empire felt through personal pain, there is a presence of many powerful characters (Dr. Demant the best of them, whose death makes the meaninglessness of times even more pronounced), there is the haunting and helpess presence of the Kaiser in every place, there is a conflict of generations and those of thoughts, there is love, and honour and most underlined - there is death. Mostly meaningless and unheroic, which is not a mean achievement in an epic novel. For isn't every death in a novel about an empire supposed to be a death of honor and valor? And the fact there is no explanation for the decayence of the empire, except the expression of the widespread bias in minor incidents- against Jews, Slavs, Hungarians and everyone else.

Reading this novel, at many points I had a sense of deja-vu, for at those places it reminded me very closely of Zweig's Beware of Pity. Both Zweig's hero and Carl find themselves in the Austrian army, amidst similar kinsman who often dwell in rumours and squander hours in a pub. Both heroes find themselves implicated in matters of honor, which forces them to chose transfers. And both go to war without heroism. I wonder if the similar fate of the two is responsible for such a strong parallel, or if one's text influenced the other in some way. But that is beside the point, for the emotions each expresses is so difficult that they can never be confused for the other.

I loved the book. It is after all individuals who experience wars, crumbling empires and changing times. The empire simply crumbles without experiencing any emotion. I wonder why such a simple idea occurred to only this relatively obscure writer?