Exotic deaths are plentiful in Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 SINS FORGIVEN and Mathieu Amalric’s directorial debut revels in the free-wheeling individuality of New Burlesque…
>>> 7 KHOON MAAF (7 SINS FORGIVEN) (India, 2011, 137′) Dir. Vishal Bhardwaj – Scr. Matthew Robins/Vishal Bhardwaj – DP. Ranjan Palit – Music. Vishal Bhardwaj – Edit. A. Sreekar Prasad – Prod. Vishal Bhardwaj/Ronnie Screwvala [Screening in Focus India block]
Based on Ruskin Bond’s short story, Susanna’s Seven Husbands, 7 SINS FORGIVEN is a saucy, operatic, darkly comic romance to put the melodrama of Colombia’s Tele-Novellas to shame. It is that rarest of objects on the festival circuit: an unapologetic crowd pleaser with serious dramatic clout and artistic credibility to boot.
Criminal Forensics specialist, Arun Kumar (Vivaan Shah) one day receives the remains of a woman burned alive in the house where he grew up: the house of Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes (Priyanka Chopra). Asked by the police to prove that Miss Johannes is indeed dead, Arun revisits his memories of the sad, brutal life afforded by Susanna’s regrettable habit of falling for cheats, prigs and bastards. When we first meet her, Susanna is engaged to the battle-hardened and maniacally jealous Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Not a man given to much warmth or kindness, Rodriques incurs the ire of Susanna’s ever-faithful family retainers by blaming her for their inability to conceive and battering every man that even considers flirting with this irresistibly beautiful and warm-blooded woman. After maiming Susanna’s retainer, Goonga (Shashi Malviya), in a scrappy whip fight, Rodriques goes to hunt the man-eating panther that has been terrifying the region and Susanna sees an opportunity to escape this increasingly dangerous marriage. At Rodriques’ funeral she meets a musician who will go-on to become a rock star, as well as husband #2 and victim #2.
At the compact running time of 137 minutes (this is an Indian movie, after all) 7 SINS FORGIVEN is both efficient in its plotting and involved enough in its characters not to feel rushed. The opening scene immediately broadcasts that this film has both brains and balls and a desire to tell a dramatic story, rather than thrill and titillate for the sake of bums on seats. Priyanka Chopra’s talent for both melodrama and comic timing matches her radiant beauty and effortlessly seductive stare. She is a paragon of temptation but not a siren, luring men to their deaths ad infinitum. Vishal Bhardwaj (who shares ownership of the film only with Chopra) never loses sight of the need for Susanna to remain a sympathetic character and, even as her sanity begins a brutal tug-of-war with the darker recesses of a life surrounded by death, her strength and vulnerability define her as a character fully deserving of her retainers’ loyalty and Arun’s unrequited love.
The fact that Susanna (for the most part) genuinely loves many of her husbands and kills when that love is betrayed is what maintains the dramatic resonance of Susanna’s larger-than-life tale. In this respect, the film’s strongest segment (and my favorite death after Rodriques’ death-by-man-eating-panther) is Susanna’s marriage to Russian attaché and possible spy Nikolai Vronsky (Aleksandr Dyachenko). While Nikolai never seems to be anything special, compared with a rock star and a poet, his love of Susanna seems not to be so self-serving as his predecessors and the discovery that he has betrayed her trust precipitates the first visible slide in Susanna’s ability to handle life as a serial killer and life as a woman in need of a man to love her. The scene in which Susanna’s retainers casually and jokingly reveal to Nikolai the dark past they share with their mistress is genuinely chilling and his subsequent demise is grounded in the very real ambiguity surrounding the character.
With some nicely shot musical numbers (many of which are sadly rather forgettable, except for the heady Indian-Russian mash-up, Darling) and no shortage of beauty or romance, 7 SINS FORGIVEN is hugely enjoyable and seems far more likely to find an international audience than the majority of Bollywood genre films. Even audiences not enamored of Indian pop music or romantic melodrama will likely find 7 SINS FORGIVEN to be a captivating pleasure.
>>> TOURNÉE (ON TOUR) (France, 2010, 110′) Dir. Mathieu Amalric – Scr. Mathieu Amalric/Phillipe di Folco/Tom Frank/Marcelo Novais Teles/Raphaëlle Valbrune – DP. Christophe Beaucarne – Edit. Annette Dutertre – Prod. Yael Fogiel/Laetitia Gonzalez[Screening in the Focus France block]
Joachim Zand (Mathieu Amalric) is a man damaged by the shame of an undisclosed disgrace in his former career as a producer for French TV. After some time wandering in the wilderness, Joachim returns to France with a troupe of American New Burlesque performers to tour the West coast of France. Long the tour, Joachim attempts to re-connect with his sons, make good on the possibility of putting the troupe on TV and find a place on the Earth that he can consider home.
Amalric and his cast achieve a striking portrayal of a band of homeless, rabidly individualistic figures adrift in the bland nowhere places on the outskirts of the coastal towns. The troupe’s inspired routines are appreciated greatly in a film often characterized by its lack of bombast and Amalric does not cut away from any routine before it reaches its climax. Off stage the performers are humanely vulnerable but unwilling to let their self-expression be stifled. Complimenting the performers is Joachim’s own irrepressible individualism. But rather than embrace it, Joachim seems to feel that it is more of a burden, especially when coupled with his short temper. Amalric is typically magnetic and alternately puts his piercing glare and sad smile to good work as Joachim’s stressful existence wriggles worm-like between purposefulness and worthlessness. Joachim’s attempt to build a home and family in the troupe is a bound to thwart itself, given the unique nature fo New Burlesque, but also potentially pays-off by uniting him with a support-group of similarly unique loners. When one performer asks Jaochim to can his criticism of her singing style she tells him that it is her number and her self-expression on stage, to which Joachim dejectedly replies, “Well it’s my country.”
ON TOUR is very representative of the low-key French indie style but never skates too close to slightness to drag or feel devoid of purpose. Though the burlesque routines are entertaining in their own right, Amalric’s shifty, rodent-like performance is the film’s true high-light.
^ 7 SINS FORGIVEN trailer (English & Hindi – no subs)
^ ON TOUR trailer (English & French – no subs)
^ON TOUR clip (English & French – no subs)