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Tape … brilliance of Richard Linklater

This is third of my favorite Richard Linklater movies, two others being Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I just loved this movie for the amazing content and his handling of characters. As usual, he has very few characters but heavily loaded with conversations. This movie came sometime between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and he cast his favourite hero and fellow texan Ethan Hawke.

The movie takes place in real time, but unlike the use of steadicam in Before Sun…, there is heavy usage of a handycam. The movie has a very amateurish approach with the handycam moving from one face to another, trying to capture immediate reactions to the lines spoken. But the content of the movie is very mature and the story idea is delicate/sensitive.

The entire action takes place in a motel room in Michigan. Vincent is in Lansing to attend the Lansing Film Festival. He is not a movie buff, he comes to Lansing to give moral support to his old buddy John Salter whose movie has made it to the fest. But he has an ulterior motive of coming all the way to Lansing. He brings back fresh memories of an incident from the past which revolves around John and Vince’s ex-gf Amy, while all 3 were in high school.

This incident is the crux of the movie, and takes place on the farewell day of the high school. The movie is about different perceptions of the same incident by different characters. A high voltage psyscho-drama is unleashed in the small room where the two friends chat about good old school days. While Amy becomes the focal point of the chat, they build up the tension and paint the character of the 3 individuals.

Vince, out of nowhere, blurts out that Amy had confessed to him something sinister. Vince outrageously suggests that John had forced Amy to have sex with him in high school, which is tantamount to rape. And John goes on the defensive that it was consensual sex. Now, while both the men are on a verbal duel, only one person can say if the allegation made by Vince is true or not; and that person is Amy herself. While John tries to defend his actions of the forced love-making, Vince takes him by surprise when he pulls out a tape-recorder and shows that he has recorded every word spoken by John and that he has invited Amy too; she would be joining them any moment.

Amy makes a late entry, after almost two-thirds of the movie is over. But this is a fantastic ploy, because she brings in a new perspective to the incident. She is the woman in question, and the way she handles herself is fantastic. The tension is palpable as she too does not know the real purpose of this get-together. John and Amy take the movie forward with some brilliantly written dialogues and a tight screenplay. Although Vince has nothing to gain from this, he tries his best to add fuel to fire. He comes up with lots of wise-crack statements which are partly relieving and partly wild remarks. The awkwardness in the room, the way Amy and John interact has been handled with lot of sensitivity.

When all 3 characters are deep into conversation, the manner in which the camera pans from one character to the other is fantastic, capturing Amy’s calmness, John’s initial composure and then losing his cool and Vince’s wickedness of having created the entire ruckus and the way he is enjoying the scene at the cost of his friends and ex-gf’s plight. The movie keeps you totally gripped and you just can’t bat your eyelids.

While I was still wondering how this movie would end, this clever movie got the fine ending it deserved; it started with vile and guile and ended the same way. The story by Stephen Belber is very well written and was actually a stage-play which was then translated on-screen by Richard Linklater with his innovative direction. And apart from the handycam, which assumed the part of the fourth character, the casting was perfect.

Ethan Hawke as Vince was conniving and I feel he is quite an under-rated actor. His performances in Before Sun… , Training Day, Gattaca and Great Expectations is awesome. He is an unassuming guy who just sweeps you off with his performance. Robert Sean Leonard as John Salter was very convincing in the way he played the guy with a dilemma of rape versus consensual sex and the guilt of having been a party to such an act. He was terrific in the movie, last I had liked him was in Dead Poets Society. And finally, Uma Thurman as Amy was marvellous. The way she conducted herself and being part of just one-third of the movie, she handled her sequences with deftness. After this movie, her next best movies were the Kill Bill series. Another noteworthy point about the performances is that, nowhere in the movie did Ethan and Uma show the warmness and the affinity of the married couple they were. They went about the job very professionally, stuck to the character and brought out the rough edges and rawness that the character demanded.

And of course, Richard Linklater, the guy who directed this movie is just brilliant. He makes movies with minimal characters and minimal fuss. He is so focussed that he does not give you a moment to turn your head around. He keeps you glued with those enchanting conversations and real-time cinema experience. This movie is a must watch as it reminds us the importance of story-telling and the art of writing conversations. All we need is a good story/script/screenplay, good actors and of course a brilliant director to make a good movie.

This post was first published on PFC

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2010 in hollywood, movie review, movies

 

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Before Sunset … brilliance of Richard Linklater

The movie Before Sunrise had ended in an uncertainty and left us wondering if Jesse and Celine ever met again. The question in our mind remained unanswered for 9 years. Nine years is a very long time; and lots of things happened in those nine years. In 9 years time, Richard Linklater made 6 more movies, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy acted in a dozen other movies. And after 9 years the three finally sat down together to write a  screenplay which would be a sequel to Before Sunrise.

The trio kept in mind, the growth of the characters Jesse and Celine, the age and the maturity factor, and they came up with a beautiful screenplay. The movie was titled Before Sunset and it released in 2004. This movie was again shot with a steadicam, just like the prequel; and had those long shots, only this time the venue was Paris.

The movie starts in a bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore where Jesse is addressing a small gathering of journalists who have come to interview him on the promotion tour of his newly written book This Time. When asked if the book is autobiographical, Jesse cleverly quotes Thomas Wolfe and begins “…he says that we are the sum of all the moments of our lives, and that, uh, anybody who sits down to write is gonna use the clay of their own life, that you can’t avoid that“. But when the journalist is adamant on knowing if he actually met a French woman, about which the book is, he says …Yes. Just when he is answering those queries he spots Celine and he wants to be done with the questions soon so he can catch-up with her after 9 long years.

I recalled that Kunal Kohli’s movie Hum-Tum had the same opening sequence. I cross-checked the release dates of the two movies and it turns out that Hum-Tum released just 3 weeks before this movie. Is this ‘book launch interview’ sequence a mere coincidence or what?Anyways, after the interview Jesse has a flight to catch and he has time only until 7.30pm to spend with Celine. Celine clearly has lost weight, while Jesse looks a lot mature with his moustache and goaty. They start walking to a coffee shop and Celine tells Jesse that the bookstore was her favourite one and she frequents it, thats how she was aware of his visit. When Jesse asks if she has read the book; Celine says that she has read it twice and she found it really very romantic and compliments him on his wonderful writing.

Now comes the awkward moment, Celine asks Jesse if he had come to Vienna after 6 months, as promised before parting. This was just like An Affair To Remember … though I will not reveal anything more, all I can say is things don’t remain the same hereafter.

The two move on to talk about other things as they have a lot to catch-up with…like how is life and how things have changed in the past 9 years. Celine informs Jesse that she works for Green Cross which is an environmental organization and they work on issues like clean water, disarmament of chemical weapons and that she had been to India a year ago working on a water treatment plant and she mentions how the cotton industry is a major source of pollution. That felt good, India being referenced in an American movie set in Paris, albeit not a good picture. She goes onto say “we’re moving all our industry to developing nations. We can get cheap labor free of any environmental laws. OK, the weapon industry is booming. Five million people die every year from preventable water disease. So, how is the world getting any better?

I love such conversations, I mean, why do they show in every other movie how boys and girls discuss only relationships, sunsigns, horoscopes, looks and make-up. Grow up, show some real conversation as above.

Jesse and Celine reach a coffee-shop and make themselves comfortable. Thats when Celine reveals that she was in New York University from ‘96 to ‘99. And Jesse is just shocked to hear that because he has been in NY since ‘98 and was wondering how they never crossed paths. That’s destiny for you. Two lovers who were supposed to meet in Vienna after 6 months of their first meeting, they don’t meet even in NY[though Jesse mentions that a few  days before his wedding he did feel that he had spotted Celine in a Deli] and  finally they see each other again in Paris.

In the coffeshop they discuss about how their personal appearance has changed, about Celine’s life and studies in US and how Jesse was a drummer  in a rock-band. Jesse mentions about how he doubts the Buddhist viewpoint on desire … “its what all those Buddhist guys say, right? You know, liberate yourself from desire and you’ll find that you already have everything you need“. While still on topic of religion and Buddhism, Celine talks about one of her boyfriends who visited monasteries of Asia because “each time he went to one of those monasteries, a monk offered to suck his cock. True story!“. This had me in splits.

They pay the coffee bill and are back on the streets, in a garden. Jesse reminsces about the night that they had spent in Vienna, and they just mess with each other on the question of whether or not they had made love that night; because they both recall the night differently. Celine then speaks about her complicated relationship with her mom and granny and how its been difficult for her to cope-up with her granny’s death. She says “Memory is a wonderful thing, if you don’t have to, uh, deal with the past“.

They finally come down to discussing about their personal lives. Jesse tells her about his wife who teaches and a 4 yr old son named Henry. Celine tells him that she is seeing a photo-journalist who covers wars and that keeps him out-of-town most of the times. They realize how they have not just grown apart, but also grown old…mature and responsible.

Celine and Jesse take a small boatride and she tells him things about Eiffel tower and cathedrals. He confesses that he wrote the book so that he could record every detail of their meeting and the wonderful time they spent together. Celine is happy to hear this because she herself is not the kind of person who can move-on with the snap of a finger; she lingers around old memories. Towards the end of this chat they exchange phone numbers so that they can keep in touch and they wonder why they did not do this nine years ago.

Time is running out, Jesse calls for his car and since he wants to make maximum use of time, he suggests that they go to her apartment. While they are in the car Celine gets emotional talking about all her ex-boyfriends who walked away from her life …”But what does it mean the right man? The love of your life? The concept is absurd; the idea that we can only be complete with another person is…EVIL! RIGHT?“. To pacify her, Jesse says “You can’t do that, you can’t live your life trying to avoid pain“. The car halts at her  apartment.

What I truely love about the movie is the fact that the characters remained true-to-life; Richard Linklater did not try to make it a happy-ending. He has shown a real-life situation about how people meet, drift apart and how things between them change; how they handle the change. The conversation is crisp and the dialogues are excellent, worth quoting from. As usual, each shot blends into the next one without any jitters; and the camera focus is excellent. Since its shot in real-time, it gives us the feeling of moving along with the character, always attached; it’s to the credit of writer/director Richard Linklater.

In the last few scenes, in Celine’s apartment, she seats him and sings him a waltz and Jesse wonders if she has written those lines for him. Later they put on some music and she dances to the song; she reminds him about his flight. The movie again ends in ambiguity because we don’t really know what happens next, whether Jesse takes the flight or not!

This post was first published on PFC

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2010 in hollywood, movie review, movies

 

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Before Sunrise … brilliance of Richard Linklater

It’s Valentine’s Day so I thought I would write about one of the most romantic movies that I’ve seen – Before Sunrise, released in 1995. The best part of the romance is that, its not candyfloss, its not filmy, there are hardly any lovey-dovey scenes, no external agents helping them realize that its love, no one advising what they should do next, in fact … there are no characters except the two main leads. All we have is two characters who are very much relatable, believable and earthy, a fantastic situation, beautiful locales and most importantly…wonderful conversations.

The first time I saw the movie, I was blown away. Most parts of the movie were shot with a steadicam and there are lots of long-takes because the entire movie is in real time, which looks so natural and gives it a new dimension and meaning. The writer/director of the movie Richard Linklater has done a brilliant job, and the two leads Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are marvellous. The acting is so effortless that it goes unnoticed. The wonderful thing about the movie is the spontaneous reaction of the two main leads and how they feed-of-each-other. They make you believe that they are having a real-time conversation. The long-shots are just incredible and the continuous chat, the plethora of topics that they cover is amazing. It must have taken so much effort to learn those lines and do it in a single take. And this brings in the honesty of the characters, how they interact, take cues from each other and they don’t let the locales or the situation disturb them a wee bit. Full credit for this should go to the creator Richard Linklater.

Jesse[Ethan Hawke] lands up in Europe[Madrid, to be precise] to meet his girlfriend only to learn that she does not like him anymore. So, its 16th June, and Jesse is on a Eurorail travelling to Vienna to take a flight back to US, the next morning. Celine[Julie Delpy] is in the same train and she is on her way to Paris, returning to her university after paying a short visit to her granny in Budapest. Amidst all the bickerings going on in the train they strike a conversation starting with something as simple as where they come from. While describing himself, Jesse adds “I’m the crude, dumb, vulgar American… who doesn’t speak other languages, who has no culture. But I tried”.

They go on to share their life and ideas. Jesse talks about this reality tv show that he would like to broadcast where people are just doing their routine stuff and they relay it live. And Celine speaks about how her parents have always asked her to focus on career. When she desired to ‘write’ as a career option, they would say ‘journalist’; and when she mentioned opening a shelter for cats they would say ‘veterinarian’. They would turn all her fantasy ideas into salaried occupation. Anyways, when Vienna arrives and Jesse is about to get-off the train he suggests Celine that she accompany him. Basically, he feels a strong connect with her and he wishes to continue the interesting conversation that they were having, so he suggests that they roam the streets of Vienna together. He says “Jump ahead 10, 20 years, okay? And you’re married. Only your marriage doesn’t have that same energy it used to have. You start to blame your husband. You think about all those guys you’ve met in your life…and what might’ve happened if you’d picked up with one of them. I’m one of those guys. That’s me”.

You wont believe that the above line was translated in Hindi and Saif spoke the exact same words while trying to convince Preity Zinta in Salaam Namaste about giving the live-in relationship a try. What a shame, I cringed in my seat when I heard those very same words.

Anyways, getting back to Celine, she decides that she must take a chance and she gets off the train. And after more than 15 minutes of having met each other they finally exchange greetings and ask each other’s names. This is so real, such things happen all the time. We get into a conversation with people, the conversation ends and only if we find the conversation/person interesting do we ask their names. Fantastic observation, scripting and direction.

The storyline is really thin, but the screenplay is tight. The way one scene flows into the next, the transition is almost unnoticeable because the conversation that they have is really engaging. The dialogues are very well written and shows what a keen observer and a clear thinker Richard Linklater is. The talks between Jesse and Celine don’t bore you for a moment, in fact it does the opposite – it makes you wait for the next sequence, the next topic of chat, what opinions/ideas are they going to exchange next!

After getting off the Eurorail, they wander around Vienna asking each other weird questions like their first sexual feelings, about love, about what pisses them off. They have some really meaningful conversations about how they hate war mongerig people and how media is controlling the thought-process of a so many people and thats its a new form of fascism. Jesse speaks of reincarnation … “this was my thought: 50,000 years ago, there are not even a million people on the planet. 10,000 years ago, there’s, like, two million people on the planet. Now there’s between five and six billion people on the planet, right? Now, if we all have our own, like, individual, unique soul, right, where do they all come from? You know, are modern souls only a fraction of the original souls? ‘Cause if they are, that represents a 5,000 to 1 split of each soul in the last 50,000 years, which is, like, a blip in the Earth’s time. You know, so at best we’re like these tiny fractions of people, you know, walking…I mean, is that why we’re so scattered? You know, is that why we’re all so specialized?”

This was spooky, because my brother and I had a similar discussion on Bhagvad Gita. We were talking about the body-soul concept and how a soul moves from one body to another, but when the bodies suddenly multiplied…how did the souls cope-up, they disintegrated! Phew! That was one metaphysical thought and I could never have imagined such an idea creeping into a movie dialogue. Just amazing!

Later they visit a No-Name-Cemetery where all the people who had flowed down the river Danube were buried ; and because in most cases they were anonymous the cemetery came to be called so. Jesse and Celine go onto discuss relationships, couples, divorce and how kids live with it. Celine says “I know happy couples. But I think they lie to each other”; I too believe that if we become totally honest about everything, a relationship may not last.

They enter an old church where they talk about religion and atheism. Jesse tells how he feels like a 13 yr old boy inside, still waiting to grow up while Celine says that she has the burden of an old woman waiting to die. Two diametrically opposite views and the natural spontaneous reaction to the same situation and place, brilliant!

Apart from the wonderful conversations, they also meet quite a few interesting people while they are moving around like a vagabond. One of them being an enigmatic palm reader who just says nice pleasing stuff. They meet 2 guys trying to promote a play and then a street-poet who writes poems on-the-spot based on their choice of words. What a noble thought, creativity…he does not beg for money but comes up with exotic idea for occupation. Jesse and Celine choose the word milkshake[although Jesse wanted to give the word rooster-prick] and the street-poet comes up with a delusion angel poem.

I can’t start describing every conversation; the movie is filled with them. Just quoted a few of the interesting ones. In one such conversation Celine says how feminism is a concept invented by men who say ‘free your mind, free your body’ … so more men could sleep/fool around with women. They discuss male chauvinism and position of women in society. They even spoof a telephone conversation, that was really cute. At the strike of dawn, they settle down in a park and wonder why people think that relationships should last forever. They resign to the fact that they will not be able to meet again and Celine suggests that they should not sleep together because she does not want to end-up as a male fantasy of an American having met a French girl, fucked her and never seen her again. While Jesse does not want to get laid he does say that “If somebody gave me the choice right now… of to never see you again or to marry you…I would marry you”.

Without revealing what happens next, let me just say that when they split the next morning, they decide to meet at the same platform [track 9] in exactly 6 months time on 16th December [a la An Affair To Remember]. And in-between they would neither call nor write to each other.

Although the movie is about just one night, probably 15-20 hrs, it gives the warmth and feel of a really long lovestory. The success of the movie lies in the fact that it does not take an eternity to unfold, just two characters seem more than enough to make us re-live all the basic human emotions like love, hate, sorrow, happiness, tears, anguish, fear, anxiety, excitement etc; and the fact that you start relating to the characters and feel their pain and joy and you start hoping and wishing for the best future that they possibly can have. That’s the triumph of true love; but we are left with a shot of the train leaving the station with Jesse in it, Celine on the platform waving ‘adios’ and the viewers wondering if Jesse and Celine will ever meet again.

This post was first published on PFC

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2010 in hollywood, movie review, movies

 

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