Frances Ha: to take life with a pinch of salt

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Quirky, fun and philosophical, Frances Ha is a rare gem in popular cinema. The film charts the friendship and conflict between Frances and her flatmate Sophie, and highlights the life of Frances as a struggling dancer. The black-and-white cinematography creates a strange yet satisfying mood. Instead of relying on dramatic plot or the change of scenes, the film rests on a solid, tender narrative: the intense bonding and competitiveness between the two friends. The girlish intimacy between Frances and Sophie appears slightly awkward at the outset, and it takes some time to warm up to the story. As it unfolds, however, the film gathers momentum, and the complexity of the characters becomes evident. Frances’s naive persistence in life and her lack of self-confidence make her vulnerable, authentic and likeable, while Sophie – who decides to leave the flat and move in with her banker boyfriend in a ‘better neighbourhood’, Tribeca – represents another way of adapting. There is a lot of attention in the making of dialogue, characterisation and pace. Frances’s struggle with her dancing career, friendships, with rentals and bills as one tries to make her way in an expensive city, will no doubt resonate in the hearts of many.

The scene where we see Frances socialising with her middle-class friends – mostly mid-career professionals- is affectionate and hilarious. There is an unmistakable air of pretentiousness going on as each other brags about his or her success in life, and yet Frances’s less-than-glamorous stories, or nearly-ramblings, come across as more endearing and genuine. She is almost embarrassed to admit that she is a dancer, afraid of being judged. When asked about the difficulty of achieving her goal, or her job, she confronts her own fears: by confessing ‘because I don’t really do it.’

One of the most touching moments in the film is when the director of the dance company offers Frances a junior office role, and she decides to turn it down even if she has no better option, fearing it to be a compromise to her dream. The director remarks that she would really like Frances to work more on choreography. Frances said, ‘You make it sound so easy.’ ‘I’m not saying it’s easy.’ Gerwig has delivered the artist’s inner fears with tremendous grace. Her reconciliation with her best friend Sophie, who has also gone through dramatic changes in her life, helps her regain her foothold and confidence. Frances’s life changes direction as she reconsiders her options and fights for what she really wants, caring less the opinion of others.

The script, co-written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, stands out for its unconventional, un-Hollywood treatment, witty dialogue and refreshing soundtrack. The first part of the film might take some time to warm up to, and at times feels a bit awkward, but all in all, it’s an inspiring and thoughtfully produced piece.

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Review on Kogut’s documentary Mutum: childhood in the sertao

I was invited to a film screening of Sandra Kogut’s documentary, ‘Mutum’, which brought much understanding as to how you can disregard rules in any genre and make your own footprints.

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Kogut, a Brazilian by birth and who has traveled widely, succeeded to adopt the novel Campo Geral. Written by Joao Guimaraes Rosa back in the 1960s, the story traces family life in the sertao, the hinderland of Brazil. Thiago, the main protagonist, makes many decisions that will subsequently change the fate not just for himself but for the rest of the family.

Shocking…the fact that this kind of rural poverty does exists…I thought before that if it did, I would have to go really far away from a city like Rio to find it. And I didn’t. – Kogut

I am very inspired by Kogut’s work and her explanation about how she sees and goes about changing rules in the film-making world. Her attempt to blur the boundary between film and fiction is bold and finely executed.

Kogut mentions that the film cast is comprised of villagers and their children who did not have any experience with the cinema, and this actually helps the film as these villagers went about interpreting their roles with a stronger sense of reality, getting caught up with the emotions of the characters, creating a vivid sense of village community. She spent a year with the local farmers, talking to them and understanding how their lives are, getting them to know the story she is going to film. The boy who plays Thiago was invited to film festivals where thousands greeted him. He has never been to a cinema and there he was, the star in Berlin Film Festival. What amazes most is that he is also, despite the film and the fame, still himself, a Brazilian boy who went back to his way of life.

In Brazil, when you say you’re going to the sertao, people tell you it’s impossible to get there because it’s more a state of mind than a place. – Kogut

The power of this documentary lies in its universal appeal. The sertao lies inside us. Happenings in the poor village transcend the confines of a remote location and portray the suffering, joys and tests a child experiences when growing up. The film examines the bondage brought about by family and poverty.

I am also fascinated with the lack of dialogues in the film. It is a world where people interact by actions and tactile understanding. In the film, emotions are embedded in the images and the sensations: downpours in a tropical storm; movements of farm animals; games; farming…

The film experience also helps me resolve an issue I had earlier with story plots. A friend once has shared with me that plot is everything. If you don’t have a strong and startling plot, you win nothing. This film shows that you can find your own way to establish lasting strength of a narrative.

Check out an interview here to know more about Kogut’s film philosophy.