Thursday, 23 October 2014

Double Indemnity

1944 - Dir.: Billy Wilder - 1 hours 47 minutes
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 25th October, 2014

The story on which “Double Indemnity” is based was written in the 1930s by James M. Cain, the hard-boiled author of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. A screenplay kicked around Hollywood, but the Hays Office refused it a production license because it would "harden audience attitudes toward crime.” By 1944, Wilder thought he could film it. Cain wasn't available, so he hired Raymond Chandler to do the screenplay. Chandler, whose novel “The Big Sleep” Wilder loved, turned up drunk, smoked a smelly pipe, didn't know anything about screenplay construction, but could put a nasty spin on dialogue.
Together Chandler and Wilder eliminated Cain's complicated end-game and deepened the relationship between Neff and Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), the claims manager at the insurance company. They told the movie in flashback, narrated by Neff. The voice-over worked so well that Wilder used it again in "Sunset Boulevard” (1950), which was narrated by a character who is already dead the first time he speaks. "Double Indemnity” originally ended with Neff in the gas chamber, but that scene was cut because an earlier one turned out to be the perfect way to close the film.
This is a dark, cynical, witty, and sleazy thriller about adultery, corruption and murder - and yet it has style by the bucket load and a plot that compels you to watch until the last frame, despite your natural reluctance.
Barbara Stanwyck (Ruby Stephens) had a hard start to life. Her mother fell under a tram when Ruby was only 4 and her father disowned her. By the age of 16 she was a showgirl in Ziegfeld Follies and in 1926 she made her first film. It was the start of a career that lasted for 64 years in film, TV and on stage. Her nickname was “Missy” and she had a reputation for getting a scene right in the first take - every time. She died in 1990, aged 82.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Lunchbox

2013 - Dir: Ritesh Batra - 1 hour 44 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 10th October, 2015

Every weekday without fail something rather extraordinary is to be seen around midday on the chaotic streets of Mumbai. This is the sight of hundreds of stainless steel tiered tiffin boxes or dhabbas piled high on handcarts and bicycles being pushed through the streets by dhoti-wearing, white-capped wallahs. Expertly run by the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers' Association, armies of these dhabbawallahs provide the invaluable daily service of speedily delivering piping hot home-cooked lunches to more than 200,000 busy office workers.
Many workers live 50 kilometres or more from their desk, a long commute on a packed train. There is certainly not time for the cook of the house to prepare a full meal before they leave home. So the lunch-filled tiffin boxes are picked up later in the morning, colour-coded and transported to the station, where they are collected by the tiffin wallahs, whose mission is to deliver each box to its corresponding workplace still hot from the pan – and to return the empty box to the home before the end of the working day. The service is reckoned to be one of the most efficient operations in the world. Its motto is “On time, every time”. With the essential core values of punctuality, teamwork, honesty and sincerity providing the backbone to the business, they have a staggering 99.99% success rate. This film is the story of a very, very, very rare failure.
A huge success in its native India, Ritesh Batra's film is actually a romance in the classic tradition - a “Brief Encounter” transposed to the rhythms and flavours of modern-day Mumbai. A romance about strangers who fall in love by way of letters. “The Lunchbox” isn’t an example of bravura moviemaking or cutting-edge style but simply a tale told with intelligence, restraint, and respect. It was originally conceived as a documentary about the lives of the dhabbawallahs and Mr Batra went to live among them in the hope of finding a personal story that would give the film a narrative. Gradually he became aware of the people on either side of the daily delivery and started to wonder what might happen if things went just a little bit wrong.
The film is ground breaking in many ways. For an Indian film to have no songs is unusual. Even more unusual is for an Indian film to tackle potential infidelity in such a head on way. We westerners may find the ending a little woolly. Perhaps we can bear in mind that if the film ended in the way we might wish it to it may have caused offence in India and it might well have felt the wrath of the censor.
There are some lovely performances here - Imrat Kaur, a much loved Indian TV star, plays Ila and seizes the chance of a role requiring great subtlety and feeling. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is more used to playing tough guys but here displays a considerable talent for light comedy. Bharati Achrekar as the unseen Auntie has made a career out of comic mothers…. but through it all moves the marvellous Irrfan Khan. One of the finest actors of our time, and blessed with a voice that can turn any of the languages he speaks into music, Mr. Khan is the film's heart and soul as he reads aloud Saajan's notes of longing. "I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to," he writes to Ila. Luckily for them, and for us, the two have memorable things to tell.