Category Archives: World Cinema

Lumumba (2000) Review

RELEASED: 27 September 2000 (Belgium)

With Black History Month approaching it’s finale, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a film about Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the key figure in Congolese independence from Belgian colonial rule. Don’t start yawning because this isn’t the epically long biographical type of film, but instead, Raoul Peck delivers a wonderfully inspirational movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s without problems.

Lumumba tells the tale of a man with the dream of an Independent Congo. The film opens with this man, Lumumba, heading towards his ominous fate. Bodies are chopped up and thrown into the fire. It’s almost as if Peck is saying,  “welcome to the independence struggle”. From this point we are taken back to the beginning of the story, from Lumumba as a beer salesman. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. Russia and the US get involved (as usual) and then there are even more issues.

First piece of advice before watching Lumumba, do your homework because this movie doesn’t offer a comprehensive history lesson. Much of this has to do with the pace of the film which progresses very quickly. One moment Lumumba is selling beer and next minute he is PM of an independent Congo, but the build up seemed to be simple, lacking the gusto that it needed. The result was choppy with seemingly pointless interjections like the scenes with Lumumba and his wife, the latter receiving scanty airtime, and their relationship did not develop, nor did it really kick off.

Having said that however, Lumumba had enough power to see it through and the fantastic cast is to thank. Eric Ebouaney’s representation of Lumumba is moving as he delivers an array of defining speeches even as the power slips from his grasp. He stands defiant in a room full of army officers with guns may we add. Certainly a gutsy thing to do. Conflicts with military head Joseph Mobutu (Alex Descas) and President Kasa Vubu (Maka Kotto) are electric, clashing ideologies and personalities, all the things that lead to a civil war. Descas is sadistic as the power hungry future dictator and Kotto is perfectly diplomatic in contrast to the extremity of Lumumba and Mobutu. The balance, the struggle, and the tension are excellent.

Visually, the film hits home hard. Peck knows how to create that shock factor, especially when capturing the execution of Lumumba and his two compatriots. The gunshots reverberate through the deadly silent woods and not only are key figures dead, but Peck captures an atmosphere of pessimism and suppression, devoid of any hope, confirmed by the figure of dictator Mobutu sitting on a throne-like chair.

There is something bittersweet about the message of this film. We are drawn in by the inspirational figure of Lumumba, his tenacity, vigour and passion. But at the same time, we can’t be comfortable by the promise of a dictatorship that looms at the end of Lumumba, especially as we have been on a journey through the hard fought independence of the Congo.

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Does Bollywood Have “Global” Appeal?

Speaking about new Indo-Canadian film Speedy Singhs, Akshay Kumar recently claimed that, “the whole idea [of the film] is to take Bollywood more and more global.”

But can the Bollywood film industry truly have a global appeal, or is the cultural difference too large an obstacle to overcome?

Bollywood is steeped in a rich cultural and political history, one that requires pages of ink to explain, so I will refrain from doing so in great depth here. Bollywood, beginning in the early 1900s, lived through the turbulent history of 20th Centruty India, and continues to survive ever more strongly today. The Mumbai based film industry really kicked up the gears during the drive for independence from British rule. We need look no further than Lagaan, a film released in 2001, 54 years after Indian independence, to see that the history of colonisation still runs through the industry, as do themes regarding gender, class, and economy.

Scholar Vijay Mishra explains that, “Bombay cinema is an allegory of the nation in the making”. This is a big task for cinema to accomplish, and it puts a whole blockade to the idea that Bollywood has global appeal. Or does it?

Lets have a peek at a few facts and figures (bear with me):

  • Over 800 films burst out of Bollywood each year in over 15 different languages.
  • In terms of ticket sales, Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world and tickets are amongst the cheapest across the globe.
  • Bollywood was described by forbes.com as “the world’s most popular movie industry”.

Judging from this, Bollywood is a bloody big industry and as the years roll on, it keeps expanding. And increasing number of Bollywood films are being shown in US and UK cinemas, as well as in the Middle East, South East Asia, Africa and Europe. Even Channel 4 often air Bollywood seasons, providing easy access to a cinema that at first may seem too distant.

So how do we explain this growing success of Bollywood cinema outside of India, an industry with a complex background and those weird intermissions of song and dance? Simple. It is about the appeal of the story. Even if the dialogue of politics, economics or culture is not evident, there is always the story that charms all.

It may be the tale of a passionate romance in Love Aaj Kal, a narrative of friendship like Dostana, or even the drama of Devdas, but whatever the film, you can be sure that the story has a recognisable element, one that can be enjoyed, even if the historical context of Bollywood is not fully understood.

Part of our increased understanding of Indian cinema comes from the films produced by the Indian diaspora in the UK. Gurinder Chadha has been instrumental in this process, making films like Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, movies which look at the Indian culture in the UK, but also give us a taste of some of the traditions and values that run through Bollywood films, allowing us to understand small elements of the Indian produced films.

So Akshay Kumar is right in a sense. Speedy Singhs, a film that clashes traditional Indian attitudes with the new generation’s views, has global appeal. The film mixes Bollywood and Hollywood, with some big music names like Ludacris and Drake.

And this fusion seems to be one of the paths that the Bollywood is taking in the near future with Shah Rukh Khan’s superhero epic, Ra.One just around the corner too.

Without doubt, Bollywood has a global appeal, one that has permeated into the UK in particular, and whilst large parts of the cultural understanding of these films may be lost on us, Bollywood cinema is as entertaining as ever, for the extravagance, story, and ever evolving industry.

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Future Flicks: Speedy Singhs

A film that The Smoovie is excitingly anticipating premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a few days ago. Blending the Bollywood flavour with the Canadian passion for ice hockey, Speedy Singhs looks to be playing all the right passes building up to its release.

It’s a story that many Indian boys encounter, a father disapproving of his sons desired career path. In this case, Canadian-Indian Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani) reaches for his goal to become a professional ice hockey player, but his father (Anupam Kher) has none of it, wanting Rajveer to continue in the family trucking business. What a mother-trucker. But attempting to overcome racism and prove a whole culture wrong, Rajveer assembles a team of Punjabi’s in the neighbourhood with Coach Dan Winters (Rob Lowe) at the helm. In true Sikh fight and Singh spirit, the team attempt to leap the hurdles of prejudice and rigid attitudes.

If the trailer is anything to go by, Speedy Singhs looks promising. Some romance, comedy and an underdog story is always a welcome mix and so is the cast that the film boasts. As well as producing the film, Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar also makes an appearance. Amongst other recognisable faces is Camilla Belle who recently joined the cast of upcoming epic Paradise Lost. Canadian funny man Russell Peters makes a rare big screen appearance alongside Bollywood veteran Anupam Kher.

Speaking at the TIFF about the appeal of Speedy Singhs, Akshay Kumar said: “the whole idea is to take Bollywood more and more global. This is just one step towards that. I want to take it further. I want to produce more and more films like Speedy Singhs.”

Anupam Kher who plays a role similar to his performance in Bend It Like Beckham dismisses fears that the two characters are the same. He said: “It’s different but, yes, in terms of look and being the father of a sportsperson, there is a similarity. But the canvas is bigger. In Bend it Like Beckham it was one girl who wanted to play football, Speedy Singhs talks about the entire community.”

Ludacris has followed in the steps of Akon who has made a track for Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming superhero film Ra.One, by making a song with Bhangra hit maker RDB for Speedy Singhs.

Although the film is set for limited release in the UK, the success may be widespread.

Speedy Singhs is released in the UK on 30 September 2011.

Below is the trailer:

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Ra.One Preview: King Khan Turns Superhero

Science fiction is certainly not one of the prominent genres in the romance filled world of Bollywood cinema, but the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, is looking to change that fact with his new and ambitious film Ra.One, directed by Anubhav Sinha.

Details of the plotline are not clear as of yet, however, King Khan has put his crown aside to don the metallic grey suit of his superhero character, G1. The romance, as always is present with the love interest being Kareena Kapoor.

Khan says that all can enjoy Ra.One since it is, “a father-son love story. It’s a family entertainer like most of my films are, and is meant for kids and adults alike,” he told the Times of India.

The film certainly looks like a blockbuster, with a massive budget and stunning visuals, Ra.One is set to challenge the Hollywood superhero films.

“There is a Superman, Spiderman or an Iron man in the west. So I wanted an Indian superhero. With Ra-One I have taken a chance,” says King Khan.

Ra.One looks to be charging in the right direction as triple platinum selling R&B artist Akon has made a track for the film entitled Chamak Chalo.

Khan has certainly gambled with a film that looks to be out of the realms of Bollywood, but Ra.One flies forward with great optimism and looks ready to soar.

The World of World Cinema

With the global population growing, it may be surprising to think that the world is actually becoming smaller. But in fact with rapidly developing technology and its infinite possibilities, the other side of the world is not so far away. The most important of these advances is cinema, a medium with the power to traverse cultural boundaries, entertaining as it charges forward.

Film is truly a cultural exchange as in the UK we experience the excitement of Bollywood, the thrill of Japanese film, the drama of French pictures and a plethora of other World Cinema. Conversely, Hollywood film and British cinema is transported around the earth constantly in dialogue with other film industries.

Bollywood, described by Forbes.com as “the world’s most popular movie industry”, is the Mumbai based Indian film world. Churning out more than 800 films a year, Bollywood is growing phenomenally and being viewed around the world in the Middle East, South East Asia, Africa and Europe, especially in the UK.

Bollywood’s increasing influence on popular culture in the UK is evident with Herculean-bodied Hrithik Roshan, the King of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan and the stunning beauty Aishwarya Rai among the stars in Madame Tussauds, London. The latter has even appeared in Hollywood hit The Pink Panther 2. Khan was also an esteemed guest on Late Night With Jonathan Ross.

Particularly in the UK, Bollywood has found its way onto Channel 4 who frequently air World Cinema and have a Shah Rukh Khan season in the pipeline. Popular movies such as Bride and Prejudice and Slumdog Millionaire draw upon the Bollywood characteristics: forbidden romances, superb choreography, and an array of colour coupled with enchanting soundtracks.

Of course, other countries are as much a part of World Cinema as India. Pictures such as Volver (Spain), La Vie En Rose (France) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan) to name but a few, have found tremendous success in the UK.

The importance of World Cinema is clear from the prestige of the film festivals abroad such as Cannes and from the exclusivity of “Best Foreign Language Film” at the Academy Awards.

So whether you know it or not, World Cinema is very much a part of our film watching experience and has permeated into popular culture. Expansive and increasingly available, World Cinema gives a fresh perspective to our Hollywood saturated viewing experiences.

(Originally published in York Vision newspaper) 

Sparrow Review: Fly My Pretties

SPARROW: On Special Release Friday 15th April

Nominated for 10 major Asian film awards and winning three of them, Sparrow has accumulated a lot of success in the Far East since its 2008 release and Johnnie To’s film certainly displays some intricate and quirky film-making.

“Sparrow” is Hong Kong slang for a pick-pocket and is also the nickname for veteran thief and photography enthusiast, Kei (Simon Yam). Leading his band of pick-pockets and looking to capture the bustling world of Hong Kong through his lens, Kei sees Chun-Lei (Kelly Lin) flitting past. Enthralled, Kei’s group track her down to where here trail ends: a rival pick-pocketing gang led by Mr Fu (Hoi-Pang Lo). With Chun-Lei looking for freedom, both gangs compete for her possession.

Sparrow is a film without much action, however its intensity is derived from some intricate and subtly linked sequences. The climax of the film highlights this perfectly with close-ups of small blades (the tool of choice for pick-pockets), and fast paced shots that contrast faultlessly with the slow motion. The intertwining of characters as they cross the road combined with the rain and umbrellas lined up (looking like a scene fromSinging in the Rain) creates a truly tense atmosphere with some aesthetically pleasing cinematography.

The film draws nicely on some aspects of film noir that compliment Sparrow stylistically. The seductive and dangerous demeanour of Chun-Lei emphasises her “femme-fatale” characteristics. Close-ups of lipstick on cigarettes highlight the sexual tension between Kei and Chun-Lei and create a very subtle relationship. These pieces of action are intersected with small and snappy moments of comedy. Kei’s gang of bandaged pick-pockets limping pathetically towards Chun-Lei is a truly witty scene, devoid of dialogue, like many of the best parts of the film.

Brilliant and intelligently woven cinematography is accompanied with a sprightly Jazz soundtrack, and like the sparrow that flutters around Kei’s apartment, Sparrow is a film with a staccato, yet gritty atmosphere.

(This review was originally published at onthebox.com)