Thursday, May 08, 2008


I don't know what hit me last night, but maybe out of desperation I decided to watch two old films - shot 6 years apart - which pretty much reduced me to mush. The first one, Meghe Dhaka Tara (which is Bengali for The Cloud-Capped Star), is a story of Neeta, a daughter of a teacher whose family lived in a refugee camp in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Her elder brother, Shankar, is a useless wrench who sings his life away (he was a student in music and had to practice for 2 years, ack!). Anyway, I loved that part when he and Neeta were talking:

Neeta: Haven't you an ego?
Shankar: Something much bigger: my music!

Awww. Anyhoo, her other sister, Geeta, flirts with her boyfriend, and her younger brother dropped out of college to work in a factory. When her father and younger brother met separate accidents and had to stop working, it was left to her to lead the family. They survived on her meager salary as a clerk in the college library, but her life was reduced to a sense of loss when her boyfriend decided to marry Geeta. She eventually contracted tuberculosis and had to be sent to the Rheid Chest Hospital which incidentally was staffed by Filipino nuns (I may be wrong, but gut feel told me they were countrymen. Besides, they were short, spoke English, and stared directly into the camera, ha ha!). Her memorable line in this film was, "Brother, I want to live!" (Dada, ami baachte chai!) which somehow made it all very depressing because in the 50's, the survival rate for TB patients was rather dismal. There are several quoatations from Keats, Yeats, and Wordsworth courtesy of the father who I suspect taught English Lit, and lots of really sad but beautiful songs. The film is very good and very sad. Oh, I thought I've already stressed that enough. Anyway, in the words of Neeta's father, "Those who suffer for others, suffer forever." Truly, Neeta was a cloud-capped star.

Directed by celebrated alternative filmaker Ritwik Ghatak. Year of release: 1960

I think I have just confirmed that I am a sadomasochist because after all the crying with the first film, I decided to end the night with yet another tearjerker, Nijushi no hitomi (Twenty-Four Eyes). Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita based on a book by Sakae Tsubo, Twenty-Four Eyes is tearjerker unparalled in all my experience of watching old Japanese films. Sabagay, wala yata akong Japanese film na hindi iniyakan. Lahat nakakaiyak! Kinoshita is considered one of postwar Japan's cinematic geniuses and one of the most prolific (42 films in 23 years). I was also somewhat surprised that Japan already produced films just 9 years after WWII. Amazing. This can be a great topic for research, methinks. It's something similar to how we survived the Japanese invasion by indulging in zarsuelas. Anyway, the film has an undercurrent feel to it that has not been well exploited, something that resembles a suggestion (a certain scene shows the teacher, Ms. Oishi, discuss certain communist concepts to her students) but couldn't discuss openly maybe out of respect for the country's very recent loss in the war. Anyway, it could have been interesting to see how this 1954 film could have furthered that topic more. This somehow reminded me, too, of Not One Less (by Yimou Zhang) and Akira Kurosawa's Madadayo (Not Yet). Twenty-Four Eyes won the Golden Globe Best Foreign Film award in 1955, which is something huge because although Kinoshita has been widely accepted by his home audience, his films have rarely been shown abroad.

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