By Pratishtha Dobhal
2014 was a great year for the girls of cinema–women swept the cinema-scape, chewed down supporting casts, and won over the movies. It was a rich visual and cerebral treat for me. I consumed a lot ( and when I say a ‘lot’, I mean every piece of cinema I could get my torrents, streams, or money on). I root for directors and story-tellers who are inching closer to understanding how complex a woman/ female character is and can be. The ‘She’ no longer wants to be under femme-fatale house arrest. Women can be all shades of black, white, and grey. Needless to say, grey being the most versatile and debatable. As is customary in the beginning and end of the year, I am putting together a repository of stellar performances everyone should have seen. Here’s the rainbow list of characters I loved, recommend, and consider a must-watch from the year gone by. From one cinema lover to another. P.S: The pleasure was all mine 🙂
1. Nymphomaniac: Vol I & Nymphomaniac Vol II
The first time I looked up writer and director, Lars Von Tier was after I watched ‘Antichrist ‘. What remained striking then as with majority of Tier’s work were the enigmatic dark fantasies he translated so cleverly on screen. Recognizably shocking human tendencies and latent desires flourish through the course of most of his films. He prods, provokes, and encourages you to think beyond what is socially acceptable. Nymphomaniac pushes the envelope. There is nothing predetermined in Joe’s (protagonist played by veteran actor Charolette Gainbourg) character sketch except her journey as a nymphomaniac. The film, through chapters, focuses on the evolution of hypersexuality in the protagonists life. As a child and then a young adult, the director builds his story of her sexuality in the most pragmatic manner in the first chapter, and carries on with the same tonality in the next as an adult. I was drawn in by not just the ease with which the transition is treated, but my attachment to her character despite her unapologetic transgressions. Gainsbourg becomes Joe, and in becoming her she is relentless in her pursuit of sexual nirvana. Joe remains naked not just physically, but literally, in all her sexual encounters (which easily also speaks volumes of how Charolette Gainbourg becomes raw and very real). The one thing which remains central to her is her sexually dictated life. The film makes no excuses of her exploration of sex. The sex scenes are raw, sans filter, and in-your-face. Approach the film as you would a book of shock and scandal, with a sexual prologue and epilogue that neither celebrates, nor condemns a woman’s experiments with desire and sexuality.
2. Still Alice
When American neuroscientist and writer, Lisa Genova self-published ‘Still Alice’ in 2007, little would she have known that her book would go on to being adapted on screen seven years later. The synopsis on IMDB of the film read as– ‘Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested’. My reaction: meh. Sounded like something I’d seen before. Although dismissive of the synopsis, Julianne Moore in the movie intrigued me enough to give it a go. After her ‘Maps to the Stars‘, earlier in 2014, I was curious to see what she’d picked up. Over the course of the film, I laughed, cried, and felt as helpless as Alice. The movie was nothing like I had imagined. The film is about Alice (played by Julianne Moore) who suffers early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Once you are familiar with the normalcy of Alice’s life in the first quarter of the movie and her passions, you already know that you like her character far too much to remain dispassionate through the course of her suffering. The director and writers are in no rush to make her journey shocking or over-dramatic. The easy exploration of the degenerative nature of the disease is heartbreaking, especially since you would never imagine that someone so young would suffer from Alzheimer’s. One of my closest uncle’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 17. I was shocked by how fragile she became of mind and body. By the end she didn’t know who her son was, or sometimes even who she was. It was heartbreaking. After all, it’s the lucidity of wonderful memories that makes life a less tedious exercise. In some cases, it could be the sheer lapse of it that could give you a second chance. Okay, I am getting a little carried away here. Still Alice is still a beautiful film that Julianne Moore so wonderfully carries and makes her own. The movie is also tempered with moments where her expressions and POV shots speak volumes. It’s an ode to intelligent preparedness a woman channels more often than necessary.
3. Gone Girl
I resisted the film for as long as I could. Partly because when everyone starts talking about a movie which I haven’t already seen or stumbled upon myself, I find it highly infuriating. It was after a lot of cajoling from my cinema-lover boyfriend that I finally saw the film. Also because, director David Fincher has some A-grade classics like Fight Club and Seven in his kitty. A thriller, the movie is fast-paced, with a tight screenplay. I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be soo good. I am beginning to feel like the synopsis on IMDB, however short it’s supposed to be should not limit the scope of the film so much. Anyway, there were a lot of reasons why I feel the film won me and the audience over. The first and the most blatantly obvious reason was the screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Movie adaptation of her novel by the same name, Gillian doesn’t flinch while giving her character shape. And while she is often accused of being a misogynist, I admire the way she doesn’t think her character needs to be a flawless damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Gillian’s protagonist is ruthless, conniving, and awful in every sense of the word. Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) is all that and more. Rosamund gets under the skin of her character and allows the character to eclipse her otherwise good girl, very vanilla predisposition. Halfway through the movie you know Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct have found their successor. A probable mash up of both with a little American Psycho thrown in and you get sucked into the character Rosamund Pike thrills us with. Unrefined, unfiltered, genius, mean, shrewd, tempestuous, hateful, sinner–Rosamund Pike is the sum total of awful in Gone Girl. The title of the film will seem a lot more crackerjack post the film.
Disclaimer: Even though some of the movies mentioned in the next chapters here may not have taken tonight’s Oscar home, they are worth every bit of your viewing time. Stay tuned, stay cinematic.