Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
German

“A chicken consists of the outside and the inside. Remove the outside, and the inside remains. Remove the inside, and the soul remains.”

 

Berlin Alexanderplatz

An epic if there ever was one…” says film historian Leonard Maltin. Indeed, Berlin Alexanderplatz forms the central showpiece in Fassbinder’s glorious career. It effortlessly obscures his other brilliant films and perhaps even sums up his whole style of working. Pulling off a film with a mammoth runtime of 931 minutes by itself is a landmark that only a few gifted souls can dream of. Performances of a lifetime, brilliant direction, gorgeous camera work and a memorable score are but some of the reasons that the film is of perpetual interest.

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12 Angry Men (1957)
Sidney Lumet
English

“I’m just saying it’s possible”

 

12 Angry MenIf I was to choose one debut movie from Hollywood that I would have loved to make, it would not be Citizen Kane (1941), it would not be Duel (1971) but it would be Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). Perhaps the word “Powerhouse” was coined keeping 12 Angry Men in mind. The film still has the raw power to shake, thrill and move audience of any generation. The granddaddy of all courtroom dramas.

12 Angry men follows the decision making process of the 12 titular men, coming from carious strata of the society, on a teenage murder convict inside a single room as all of them but one ritualistically try to wrap up things with the seemingly solid evidence provided to them. Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is disgusted at disposing off a life so simply and tries to make the rest of them deliberate over their decision. What begins as a single dissident voice turns out into a fierce tug of war that gradually descends into a no competition. All of them slowly realize that what they have at hand is supposed to be a qualitative process and not quantitative and that there is more than a vote at stake.

12 Angry men remains one of the best character studies made on film till date. The protagonists enter the room with wide range of mentalities ranging from boredom and arrogance to curiosity and apathy. As the day progresses, each person’s mentality catalyses the others’ and the chemistry within the members changes in order to suit each other’s ideologies. At the end of it all, not only is the prejudice of the characters shattered but so is the audience’s preconceived notion about the power of cinema. The viewer will walk out of the movie with open minds as the characters walk out of the dreaded room.

The most stunning aspect about the film is that nobody knows the truth at the end of the ordeal – Neither the characters nor the audience. One is reminded slightly of Kurosawa‘s minimalist masterpiece Rashomon (1950), for both deal with subjective accounts of crimes and yearning for absolute truth. Kurosawa’s film leaves the audience helpless and craving for objectivity with the woodcutter’s benign act being the only comforting element, whereas 12 Angry Men makes them gradually reconcile with the fact that there is much more to “truth” than meets the eye. The film’s greatest success lies not in changing the decision of the characters, but in making them and the audience acknowledge the fact that there are possibilities outside their frame of minds.

Minimalism in film is ironically a very tough job and not many have achieved it with success. As they say, it is difficult to be simple. Pulling off a film inside a single room and with a dozen characters is definitely not an easy task and Lumet has done it with more than perfection. What could have easily rolled off to a claustrophobic garrulous mess is instead fabricated into a gripping study of human characters and group dynamics. The performances are all top rate and one wonders if these characters were written with the corresponding actors in mind. Lee. J. Cobb‘s loud arrogance is as moving as Martin Balsam‘s quiet leadership. Such great casting never comes often.

Needless to say, 12 Angry Men forms the cream of greatest American films ever made and is in the same league as Kubrick’s and Ford’s masterpieces, if not better. Be whatever your mood while you watch the film, you will end up awe-struck at the flawless execution and at the realization that only “Seeing is Believing“.