Sunday, May 15, 2011

"He's walked 40 miles just to keep the flies of his sister's face."

I've never seen more visually stimulating cinema than Fernando Meirelles'. For me, it has always been that the difference between a play and a movie is the extra character of a camera. That's it. Everything that can be done in a cinema can be done on stage, it's just that in case of a cinema, the director has the phenomenal power of showing you what he wants and how he wants it. There have been quite a few exponents of the cinematic camera, but for me, none more so than this filmmaker from Brazil. Some shots in The Constant Gardener are so breathtaking in their composition that you wonder if the every shot is a labour of love.

We've all talked about the great cinematographers from Latin America thanks to the popularity of movies like Y Tu mama Tambien, Amores Perros and Pan's Labyrinth. How could we have missed Meirelles and Salles. I've just seen two films of Meirelles, The City of God and The Constant Gardener and I realise the impact of a camera. Be it the energetic, rotating shots in Cidade de Deus or the handheld, wavering camera here, it's just Meirelles. What captivated me more than anything else in these two movies is the colour and the ethnic music of the place. It's just amazing.

If City of God in itself was one of the finest movies of our times, here with actors like Fiennes and Weisz, he took it a step further. Fiennes is a revelation, what a second act. His character reminds me a lot of Gogol's Overcoat's protagonist, he's dogged in his approach to work, is one-dimensional until he finds something to live for and then once he loses it, his need to avenge it attributes the same style.

Meirelles has us look at Africa and his camera doesn't flinch. He wants us to experience guilt, wants us to be wounded; unlike in his earlier film where he was the objective observer, here he wants us to come in as close contact with the brutal reality as possible. The film is about Pharmaceutical companies testing their drugs on Africans as the Rest of the World is busy. "Disposable medicines for disposable people; It is how they expiate their guilt", one character observes. There are some really heart rendering moments in the movie, like when Fiennes' character yells, "It is one child we can help", bringing back reminiscences of what his wife had asked of him earlier. I'm yet to read John Le Carre's novel but the film gives us the story and more importantly takes us there, into that World where a twelve year old kid walks 40 miles. Meirelles never let's us forget the kind of luxuries we enjoy at the expense of people like them and he mocks the system in a scene where the camera rotates from an expanse of a Golf course, where a few Caucasians are playing, to show a slum where houses are packed next to each other. Diplomatic relationships are like that and despite all that people say, Nobody really gives a fuck.

But despite the hypocrisy pervading the film, Meirelles' does not forget to show us those unheralded heroes, like the cargo pilot who says, "Do not embarrass me with your money, you can't buy this". It is heart-wrenching, provoking and disgusting to realise what order of hypocrites we are to be constantly turning out heads away and quelling our conscience.

There is a woman who cannot stand injustice. There is her husband whose entire world revolves around her, until he realises she ain't never coming back and all he can do is settle her accounts and go to her. It is cinema at its greatest and more than that.

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