matrubhoomi

[Trigger warning: rape]

When modern culture romanticises relationship between men and women to disguise the oppression behind it, what would happen if women were of short supply? Manish Jha offered an intense, remorseless, thought-provoking picture entitled “Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women” (2003) to delineate this situation. When women are scarce, he figured, patriarchy will show its rawest form; no more pseudo-power that women possess even in their own household. No more symbolic women worshipping.

This movie starts with a scene of a woman giving birth. When it is found that the baby is female, she is drowned in a cauldron full of hot milk, while her father wishes if only the baby were a boy… This, of course, is a critique towards India’s infamous femicide that has resulted in sex ratio imbalance, especially in rural India. Apparently, Jha had researched about sex ratio imbalance as a direct repercussion of the femicide practice, and developed the theme into an enticing premise. He asked the audience to imagine a dystopian society where women are absent, and the way men thrive to live without them.

The irony is that, even in a condition where they can’t reproduce due to the lack of women in their village, the men in question don’t even bother to stop and think, “Why do we hate women so much that we kill female babies?” They keep on referring to household activities as women’s duties. They still watch porn, imagining if only they could sleep with a woman. The search of a bride to marry them is more of the search of sexual pleasure than a life companion with whom they share ideas and moments of life.

That’s why when Kalki (Tulip Joshi), a beautiful girl who’s been hidden by her father for years, is found, the rich Ramsharan (Sudhir Pandey) is willing to pay millions to get her married to his eldest son. After talks, she’s decided to be married to Ramsharan’s five sons. Her greedy father then quintuples the payment, which makes him more of a pimp than a loving parent. In my opinion, Kalki is the most extreme case of Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that marriage is tantamount to prostitution, especially when she says that “…The nature of marriage, as well as the existence of prostitutes, is the proof: woman gives herself, man pays her and takes her” (de Beauvoir, 1989, p. 369). Marriage life for Kalki doesn’t consist of love and honeymoon; but daily rape and domesticisation.

Despite some inadvertently comical acting for some action parts, the casts for this movie in general did a very good job to portray a woman following her basic instinct to seek for liberation and men pursuing their desire. Moreover, although the story is supposed to be set on 2050 A.D., the theme is relevant today, with all the oppressive gender roles prescription and women hating. I applaud Jha’s effort to discuss a sensitive theme delicately. This is a powerful and necessary movie, and I’m welcoming more Asian feminist cinema to enjoy.

Reference:

De Beauvoir, S. (1989). The Second Sex. 1952. Trans. HM Parshley. New York: Vintage Books.

Mustang_poster

Imagine this: “The Virgin Suicides”, only in a rural village in the Northern part of Turkey. Five girls on a first day of summer, play innocently on the beach with their male friends. Little did they know that a neighbor sees them and reports them to their grandmother and uncle, who have been acting as their guardians since the death of their parents ten years ago. Being conservative that they are, they immediately do what family members should do: incarcerate the girls in their own house. Invite their aunts to teach them cook and sew. Make them wear long, unflattering dresses. Marry them off, one by one, to the first family that approaches…

Lale, the youngest girl, describes the situation as “The house became a wife factory that we never came out of…”

This is what director Deniz Gamze Ergüven brought onto the screen. Starring Ilayda Akdogan (as Sonay), Tugba Sunguroglu (as Selma), Elit Iscan (as Ece), Doga Zeynep Doguslu (as Nur), and Günes Sensoy (as Lale), “Mustang” is now competing for the Best Foreign Film title in this year’s Academy Awards. This is a simple film with unknown stars and a Turkish female director; all the reasons it takes for me to support “Mustang” to win an Oscar.

The subtle nature of this film pretty much resembles the patriarchy it wishes to critique. Not only that it plays with high walls and double locks to symbolise the girls’ incarceration to stay pretty and domestic inside their cage, the film also plays it with their claustrophobic photography – close-ups or medium shots in most scenes done in the house – that nearly suffocates the audience. Besides that, the big revelation (SPOILER ALERT) that the uncle molests at least three of the girls is also told ambiguously. What’s powerful to me is the fact that nobody talks about it on-screen, much less the sisters. Such subtlety manages to depict how taboo it is to talk about sexual violence in such culture, that it should not be displayed overtly for public consumption. The filmmakers only tiptoe around the the issue, shily poking it. Then, there it is, on the big screen, watched by public, revealing one of the most supressed theme without preaching the audience.

Being the first feature-length work by Ergüven, “Mustang” is a sweet and powerful film. Some Turkish may deny that this is a clear picture of Turkish family, considering her growing up in France and not in Turkey. Irrespective of whether it delineates common Turkish family, I believe it’s probable to happen in Eastern culture. Even if Ergüven tells a story of one in a million case, she’s sure successful in picking the minority case and studying it.

Although I haven’t watched any other Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film category nominees, this one is sure a strong contender. Final verdict: 8/10

hateful8


The new Quentin Tarantino’s picture is relentless, thrilling, and violence. Allow me to retort; the movie is not violent, the movie is the violence.

Tarantino himself admits that the story takes the same time frame as Django Unchained (2012), his previous film. As John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) stagecoach gallop to Red Rock town to bring Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice, it needs to stop to take Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sherriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who also head to the same town. The cruel blizzard stops their journey and then they stop and rest at Minnie’s Haberdashery. As they arrive, they learn that Minnie and her husband were not there, and instead meet Bob (Demian Bichir) who take care of the haberdashery while the owners are gone. They also encounter Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), and O.B. Jackson (James Parks). The journey that is first intended only to take Domergue to the town and get money, after all, renders impossible to continue as things unravel and conflict arises.

I have been following Tarantino’s works since four years ago, and watching practically everything he has directed and/or co-directed, including “My Best Friend’s Birthday” that was released in 1989, even before his big hit, “Reservoir Dogs” (1992). I notice that this is his first homage to the Western genre, which surprised me, because usually when it was Quentin Tarantino, it was about him as an auteur. Yet, “The Hateful Eight” is more of Western genre that it is Quentin Tarantino. Adding that to Agatha Christie-esque mystery, had I not known beforehand that Tarantino directed this, I would not have guessed it was Tarantino’s film.

What I am trying to say is, “The Hateful Eight” may not be his most original idea. I’d still have to credit “Pulp Fiction” (1994) for that. Even the lesser-known pictures like “Jackie Brown” (1997) or even “Death Proof” (2007) were smeared by Quentin Tarantino all over. Nevertheless, this can be seen as him growing as a filmmaker. Paying homage to random 1950’s B-films has been tiring according to some film critiques.  No more that non-linear plot, reference to Chinese cinema, even dragging dialogues and preaches that have been his marks since the dawn of his career.

Needless to say, his die-hard fans are still cajoled to watch it. The violence is still childish (and I am not saying this in a negative light!) which is perhaps his secret formula. What I love from Tarantino’s films is the fact that he doesn’t employ that “sex sells” recipe – yet for him, violence does. I know we need to start to be more critical, yet, I won’t complaint as I’m a sucker for violent movies. Just do your thing, T, with taste, class, and reason why violence needs to be the dough of your masterpiece. Thanks to the Western genre, he pretty much didn’t need reasons to incorporate violence on screen—gracefully.

The casts are also superb. I know Tarantino has a thing with stars, and that’s why he works with some people over and over again. Just like Johnny Depp’s relationship with Tim Burton, or Bill Murray with Wes Anderson, it’s apparent that Samuel L. Jackson remains the rare few who can handle him. Jackson’s character here even resembles Jules’ character in Pulp Fiction – powerful speech, twisted sense of justice, and a tad of childish naivete. [SPOILER ALERT] Poor him for getting shot in two most painful places; kneecaps (in Django) and crotch (in Eight).

In this post, I would also like to mention Zoe Bell (why don’t more people talk about her?) who holds a small role in the film. Zoe Bell is an actress he’s been working with perhaps since “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003), correct me if I’m wrong. She was Uma Thurman’s stunt, and Tarantino liked her so much that he gave her a big role in “Death Proof” (2007). Just like in “Death Proof”, Zoe Bell’s character remains… Zoe Bell. Her originated from New Zealand, her strong-but-innocent character remain the same. The New Zealand joke, especially, perhaps will never get old.

Besides Jackson and Bell, Tarantino also hired his usual casts – Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. This is perhaps where he leaves his mark on. And oh, along with his persistence to use 70 mm film in shooting this movie. I mean, the scenes are mostly indoor, if not several scenes on the white horizon covered by snow; why on earth would you need a film specifically created to amplify colours and strengthen its nuance?

Again, it’s Quentin Tarantino, and perhaps we should just leave it at that.

star wars

After watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday”, I opened my laptop and stumbled upon mixed reviews regarding the film. Just like any other pop culture, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not immune to exaggerated stance, which results in the fandom being torn into two. Some display hostility by giving a 1 star rating, some are imbued  by melancholy as to rank it perfectly. Being a curious media and cultural studies student, and having watched the entire Star Wars franchise yet not emotionally invested in it, I would like to offer my take on the new film.

The story takes place after the defeat of The Galactic Empire. The First Order assumes power, and the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is there to send the galaxy back to peace. The First Order is led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who is ambitious to kill Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). During an attempt to save Luke, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is captured and he imparts his information on Luke’s whereabout to a droid named BB-8. In Jakku, BB-8 then finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), a poor woman, and Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who turns against the First Order. Later, the two try to save BB-8 from getting captured, and in turn, get involved deeply with the Resistance’s attempt to fight the First Order.

My immediate response to the film was mixed. I find myself nod to most reviews from both sides. The movie is not amazing, nor is it necessarily bad. The decision to regurgitate the story line from “Star Wars: A New Hope” suffers from two possible scenarios: either it caters to people’s nostalgia or dissatisfies the hopefuls. As such, I would like to assess the story line first.

Perhaps you have read plenty analysis on this issue. The story line from Star Wars: The Force Awakens almost feels like a copy-paste from A New Hope. Resistance against the authoritative order? Checked. A droid playing an important role? Checked. Destruction of a village in order to seek for said droid? Seemingly-ordinary people who happen to be gifted with supernatural abilities? A bad guy threatens to destroy an entire planet? Checked, checked, aaaand checked. The story is not original, even to me who has seen the franchise only once. It does not add to the richness of Star Wars story.

Sadly, this shortfall is not inevitable. With 30 years time gap since the last episode takes place (I assume the 6th is the last story, not the 3rd, of course) there could have been stories that developed. To my despair, this gap is not filled, rendering some parts of the story awkward when it should be emotional. For instance, there is virtually no story behind Han Solo – Leia Organa and their child, Kylo Ren, who is the villain of the story. The backstory as to why Ren left his parents and joined the dark side is cringeworthily told during the scene just right before Han Solo is stabbed with the Ren’s lightsaber. The scene does not come across as emotional as it (perhaps) is intended to be.

Consequently, the lack of back stories implies the lack of character development, even that of the main characters. Finn’s reason for rebellion against the Order is not explained, again, it is only mentioned in such a hasty manner in the dialogue. Nor does it affect anything. From my point of view, then, Finn is just a person with a momentary outburst, and it does not make me like him very much. Sure, he later plays an important role in saving the galaxy, but there must be stronger reasons than having a crush on the girl, right? On the other hand, Ray is also poorly developed. I like the girl on the screen, to be honest, she is my favorite one (girl power!). However, the questions still linger. Who is she? Why is she so attached to Jakku?

I think the fast pace of the story aids to the poor story line and character development. From Poe being captured to Finn meeting Ray to Finn and Ray somewhat leading the Resistance… these scenes do not merge seamlessly, sometimes, it feels Forced (pun intended). The fast pace is okay if we watch the movie just for fun, just for the action scenes and blaring music, but of course the awkward transition begs questions. However, I agree that fast pace is important considering the theme of Star Wars in general; then again, some audience might watch it for the battle scenes.

Despite everything, I acknowledge Star Wars as an important part of our culture. I am not sure about its cultural significance back then considering I was born much later than 1970s, however, even I as a mediocre audience of the franchise felt the chill when Han Solo and Chewbacca got into the Millennium Falcon, again. Or watching Princess Leia, still with all her charm. The three original characters of Star Wars (Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker) are legendary and their presence in the movie proves that. The main characters of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” do not manage to overshadow the three; the yearning of the audience for them to appear on screen was practically palpable. It was a one kind of cinematic experience, though, to have people who love Star Wars cheer and cringe in solidarity at the same time.

Another remarkable feature of the new film of Star Wars is its grandiose musical instruments. Its CGIs and visual effects are also seamless. These technicalities are beyond doubt. Star Wars and its effects manage to put us in the right mood every time.

My verdict? The “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an important cultural happenstance that needs to be enjoyed. I suggest, if you have not watched any of the previous films to watch them prior to purchasing your “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ticket. This is important for you to notice how legendary Han Solo and Millennium Falcon is, and to share that amusement with other audience. If you are an Indonesian, please watch the film, since it is fun to see familiar Indonesian faces on the screen even though they practically do not appear for more than one minute.

Final Rating: 6,5/10

pd

I shall describe the series into three words: macabre, bizarre, and colourful. It is a really refreshing take to the television history, considering at that time TV was already dominated by the The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or The Wire type—which I tried to move on from. Created by Bryan Fuller, this show which only lasted for two seasons (2007-2009) has a very inviting premise:

  • The main character is endowed with an ability to wake the dead with one flesh-to-flesh touch.
  • However, the second touch with the same being renders them dead again, this time forever.
  • If the main character lets the dead live for more than one minute, the universe will conduct their own arbitrary “cosmic exchange” by killing another living being around the dead.

The main character mentioned above named Ned (Lee Pace) who is often referred to as “The Piemaker” because he loves piemaking and builds his own diner named The Pie Hole. The narrative starts at the time Ned was around 9 years old and first found his ability by accidentally waking his dying mother, learning that his mother’s resuscitation results in his crush’s dad who lives next door die as the “payment” for his mother’s being alive, and then inadvertently killing his mother forever when later she touched him again—all in the same day.

Twenty years later, a capitalist Private Investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) discovers Ned’s ability and recruits him to investigate deaths by literally waking the dead and asking them who killed them. Little do they know that their first case is Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles (Anna Friel), Ned’s crush whose father he inadvertently killed, and who just got killed. Loving Chuck so much, Ned chooses to resuscitate Chuck forever, eventhough that means both of them are forbidden from touching forever.

The three—Ned, Emerson, and Chuck—then form an investigating team. The story then revolves heavily around them, Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth)—a waitress in The Pie Hole who has unrequited feeling for Ned and who is bothered by why Ned is so conscious with touching, Digby—Ned’s dog, and Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian Charles (Ellen Greene)—Chuck’s aunts who isolate themselves from the outer world.

For such a macabre theme, Pushing Daisies brings out a refreshing tone using their choice of colour. Being thematically comparable to Tim Burton’s grim outlook displayed in his works, what differentiates Pushing Daisies is its contrasting sense of the show’s theme and peculiar cinematography.

Ned's_Mother

Look at the ordered green tone: how could such grim theme of Ned’s mother dying be visually aided with beautiful cinematography? This reminds me of Wes Anderson’s peculiar tone setting, although not that similar.

Other than the colours, the way death is depicted in general is also not conventional. Barely any tears are shed on the course of the show. In lieu of depicting death as a powerful narrative—as it’s close to the feeling of loss, hopelessness, or whathaveyou in our societies—Pushing Daisies chooses to talk about it nonchalantly, lightly, without recourse. Even the three main characters benefit from cheating with death—by resuscitating the dead for only one minute, they gather information on the killer’s identity and then get handsomely paid for “solving murders.”

For a very short-lasting show, Pushing Daisies also offers a very neat storyline and a nice wrap-up at the end. It, along with the characters, developed beautifully throughout two years. The most memorable one is Olive Snook’s character who becomes more and more interesting and funny nearing the end. The conflicts are bizarre too and benefit from the overall theme of the show. Olive suddenly becoming a nun? Lily and Vivian used to be a team of synchronised swimmers? Thanks to the ridiculous plots, they all are hilarious instead of illogical. This is not to discredit the smart plots of the show that enrich the entire story and contribute to the story advancement, such as when Ned suddenly does not want to utilise his gift anymore, or when Chuck chooses her dad over Ned. Sometimes, this show displays warmth that is still palpable.

But what makes Pushing Daisies particularly particular (this is how Bryan Fuller would’ve worded what I’m trying to convey here!) is its art department. And yes, I count dialogues as one of its memorable aesthetics: fast-paced, witty, punny dialogues that at first you despise, second you tolerate, and the third time you hear it, you just accept that you lose and Bryan Fuller and his team are a genius writers and that you have no other option than to laugh. I remember the Bees and Damn… sorry, Dam episodes as succinctly encapsulating the insufferable punny puns.

Adding them all to the overall aesthetics, Pushing Daisies is a treat to the eyes. The music, costume, details are tailored specifically to each episode. I’m not talking about half-assed efforts here, but whole-assed effort.

chuck

The theme of the episode is Bee, and of course, it is very visually satisfying for Chuck to don this dress. Also, look at the properties behind and especially *whispers* that window!

However, logical mind can’t help be bothered by several bothersome pieces in the show. Despite being witty and punny, sometimes the dialogues are too fast-paced that I needed to employ subtitles in order to follow what they were saying. Even then, I must pause several times due to it being too fast-paced any living being wouldn’t be able to follow 100%. The too fast-paced story also somewhat permits interesting things happen narrated and not acted, such as when Chuck has come to some revelation about her identity and the narrator needs to narrate when Ned tells her instead of showing Ned debunking the stories to her and showing her surprise. It could’ve been better if they had shown some effort to not make important scenes look simplified.

Another bothersome thing in the show is mind-bogging story loopholes. One of the biggest story loophole is Lily and Vivian’s last name. If Charlotte’s father’s last name is Charles, why are the aunts named “Charles” as well, when they were supposed to have a romantic history with her dad? Also, isn’t it weird to want to take care the child of a man who breaks off his engagement to you (Vivian) especially knowing that he might have conceived the child during their engagement? Some mysteries are never revealed.

In the end, Pushing Daisies is a lovely treat. I had so much fun watching it the first time I wouldn’t think twice to watch it the second time, especially knowing that I’d discover more puns and funs. Next time, I want to bring my blanket in front of the TV along with a slice of pie, which I have been craving for weeks now thanks to Pushing Daisies.

pushing-daisies-pie

Picture from: https://tvatemywardrobe.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/pushing-daisies-pie.png

pd2

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