Sitges 2012 Dispatch: MISS LOVELY and THE CONSPIRACY
Granted, about a half second later I saw the flyer underneath and realized what was up (then went ahead and drank the wine), but still I'm grateful for the thrilling moment of confusion and panic that the sight provoked. Since The Body is about a corpse that goes missing, I'm not positive what a lipstick-stained wine glass has to do with anything, but it's an intriguing image all the same. While word-of-mouth on the film has been luke-warm at best, I'll go ahead and give the movie's marketing team four stars. And now, onward, to movies that I've actually seen.
Bollywood junkies will have to wait for a full review from J. Hurtado for a culturally-informed and contextualized take on this one, as I'm pathetically unfamiliar with Indian cinema. That said, Miss Lovely seemed equally indebted to American movies, specifically Brian De Palma at his erotically-charged best, Boogie Nights and maybe even a little Day of the Locust. It's never quite as successful as any of those, but it brings enough of its own to the table to where it doesn't really need to be.
The film follows two brothers making C-grade sleaze movies in India in the 80's. Vicky, the elder, is constantly trying to take their career further with ill advised schemes and double-crosses, while Sonu is tired, skeptical and ready to find a new way to live. He thinks he's finally found his opportunity when he sees Pinky, a beautiful, seemingly chaste woman with whom he immediately becomes obsessed. He makes plans to cast her in a mainstream romance called Miss Lovely, but to do so, he needs a large sum of money, fast. So begins a hard-boiled, dreamlike downward spiral.
The narrative is engaging only in fits and starts, partly because of the time-jumping structure which, while admirably bold, doesn't really hold together, and partly because Nawazuddin Siddiqui's performance as Sonu is so perpetually pissed off and stressed out, that his motivations and desires never really take shape. At the same time though, the film is incredibly assured stylistically, and contains some dazzling sequences, particularly, its numerous recreations of the 80's sleaze movies. The fever-dream style of the movie, while sometimes deathly for the pacing, creates a thoughtful dialogue with the grubby sex films of yesteryear, hard-boiled American genre films and even the audience -- Not an easy feat to pull off. I was also constantly drawn in by the world of the story, in which filmmaking outcasts of India try to eek out a living under constant threat of arrest from a puritanical government. These elements all converge to form a film that, while not totally consistent, is still one of the most unique and ambitious movies I've seen this year. If nothing else, I'm very excited to see what director Ashim Ahluwalia does next.
Wow! Even if you've tired of the faux-documentary/found footage format (or hated it from the start), do not let the prejudice keep you from seeing this whip-smart, suspenseful and totally unique thriller. The less you know going in the better, suffice to say that the basic setup involves two documentary directors making a film about an obsessive conspiracy theorist. When he suddenly vanishes without a trace, the directors start piecing together information on what he was investigating, and slowly descend into a terrifying world of paranoia and danger, though not necessarily the type you expect.
Director Christopher MacBride uses the format and its inherent subjectivity to create not only breathtaking suspense and uneasy paranoia, but also to pose a number of thought-provoking questions about conspiracies, the human capacity for belief, the world we live in, and the medium of documentary itself. It's quite a balancing act, and even when it seems that Macbride may have misstepped, another development soon reveals that he was in control the entire time. Much credit should also be given to the lead actors Aaron Poole and James Gilbert. The performances in these type of films are rarely mentioned in reviews, but they're worth noting here. Both strike a perfect balance between naturalism and performance, and had they not done such a convincing job playing average relatable guys who get in over their heads, it would have been much more difficult to follow the film to the wild and scary places in which it ends up.
But enough! Read no more about this movie and hold out until you can see it for yourself!