Dinner For One (1995)
Abbas Kiarostami
France/Iran
1 Min.

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s short for Lumiére and Company (1995), the film made to commemorate a century of cinema, is arguably the best of the 40 odd films in the compilation. The short films were to be made using the earliest camera that the Lumiére siblings had devised and in accordance with three basic rules, aimed at replicating the filming constraints prevalent a hundred years ago – the films could run for more than a minute, they had to be filmed using a static camera and no artificial sound or light could be used. Kiarostami, being the iconoclast he is, breaks one of the rules instantly by making sound a critical part of his film. Titled “Dinner for One”, the short film shows us two eggs being fried on a pan placed over a hot stove. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, a woman (voiced by none other than Isabelle Huppert) on the phone urges the person (invisible to us, presumably a man) to pick up the phone and talk to her. She seems to know that he is in the house and, yet, is not willing to pick up the phone. The man, on the other hand, continues to fry the two eggs (a couple?) without paying any heed to the call. Proving once more, as he has so consistently done in his marvelous career, that minimalism actually means maximum utilization of available resources, Kiarostami presents a film that can well be regarded as a crash course in minimalism by one of the greatest exponents of the school. Having us see just a couple of eggs being fried and hear an unanswered phone call, Kiarostami paints a heartbreaking portrait of failed relationships and unrequited love.

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“.