A to Z of Films Meme (N)

If the movies obeyed the laws of physics, they wouldn’t enter­tain, and we prob­a­bly wouldn’t watch them. Insult­ing­ly Stu­pid Movie Physics is a good ‘info­tain­ment’ site that has its own movie physics rat­ing sys­tem.

N

Notorious

Beau­ti­ful act­ing, stun­ning visu­als, and a com­plex, moral­ly intrigu­ing dra­ma make this Hitch­cock film a beloved clas­sic.Notorious

The incred­i­bly gor­geous Ingrid Bergman plays Ali­cia, daugh­ter of a Nazi spy, and a “par­ty girl”. She is recruit­ed by an Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agent Devlin, played by the charis­mat­ic Cary Grant, to infil­trate a nest of Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors. They are led by Alex, played by Claude Rains, who loves Ali­cia. The love tri­an­gle begins when Ali­cia falls in love with Devlin.

Unlike many of Hitchcock’s sim­plis­tic, mono­chro­mat­ic good and evil char­ac­ters, Noto­ri­ous is remark­able for the depth of its char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. There is a dark side to the sus­pi­cious Devlin, who essen­tial­ly asks the girl to sleep with the ene­my, and doesn’t trust her when she loves him. Alex, on the oth­er hand, com­plete­ly trusts Ali­cia, and is the vic­tim of a dom­i­neer­ing moth­er. Ali­cia is caught between patri­o­tism, her real love for Devlin, her pre­tend­ed love for Alex, and her basic sur­vival instinct – how long can she con­tin­ue pre­tend­ing while the dan­ger to her life steadi­ly cross­es all lim­its? We are thus able to sym­pa­thize with all the char­ac­ters in this engag­ing dra­ma.

The daz­zling visu­als are a delight. The ‘morn­ing after’ when Devlin sug­gests his scheme to Ali­cia, his fig­ure upside down, rotat­ing as she gets up. When Devlin plays the record­ing prov­ing her patri­o­tism, she moves from shad­ow to par­tial light to full light as the record­ing pro­gress­es. The long zoom from an overview of the par­ty room to the key grasped in Alicia’s hand. This is a swoop­ing crane shot that is so effec­tive, that all posters of the movie include a key motif. The marathon kiss­ing scene that while cir­cum­vent­ing the 3-sec­ond cen­sor restric­tion becomes one of the most erot­ic scenes.

The mas­ter of sus­pense also shows how action is not required for sus­pense. There is vir­tu­al­ly no action in the film, and the extreme­ly sus­pense­ful cli­max does not involve any chase or shoot-out, but Devlin escort­ing Ali­cia out of the Nazi strong­hold in full view of the spies, who can­not do any­thing to stop them. (Devlin once walks up the same steps that they descend togeth­er, and the num­ber of steps are more when they descend in the cli­max, pro­long­ing the sus­pense.)

We should be grate­ful Pro­duc­er Selznick did not have his wish to cast Vivien Leigh for Ingrid Bergman’s role, as she is just out­stand­ing as the cyno­sure of the whole film.

Runner Up

Nayakan

Nayakan (Hero) finds a men­tion in TIME’s All Time 100 Movies list, which I sus­pect is a rep­re­sen­ta­tive entry from main­stream Indi­an cin­e­ma as I believe the list tries to please every­one while not sat­is­fy­ing any­one.

NayakanNayakan is Mani Ratnam’s God­fa­ther-style epic loose­ly based on a real-life Bom­bay under­world don. Kamal Haasan deliv­ers a per­for­mance of a life­time, aging con­vinc­ing­ly and tran­si­tion­ing smooth­ly from an angry young man to a pow­er­ful, invin­ci­ble mafia don, to a vul­ner­a­ble old man.

At the end of the film, when the police are lead­ing Nayakan to the court for tri­al, his grand­son asks him “Are you a good man or a bad man?”, and he replies “I don’t know”. This is the most dis­tinc­tive ele­ment that sets this film miles apart from The God­fa­ther. There is always an under­ly­ing thread of ques­tions of moral­i­ty in the film, and Rat­nam han­dles it well by not eulo­giz­ing Nayakan in every­thing he does. We are shown how he suf­fers per­son­al­ly because of the max­im vio­lence begets vio­lence, as his wife and son get killed. We see how his daugh­ter becomes estranged from him, and mar­ries a cop who ulti­mate­ly spear­heads his con­vic­tion.

The art direc­tion is unbe­liev­able – imag­ine recre­at­ing the slums of Dhar­avi in a stu­dio in the city of Chen­nai! The details are so minute­ly and intri­cate­ly worked out that one nev­er notices the dif­fer­ence.

There is noth­ing remark­ably new in Nayakan’s view of crime and the under­world, but what ele­vates the movie is the pas­sion­ate sto­ry-telling that sweeps you into its world. Ratnam’s cin­e­mat­ic ener­gy, most vis­i­ble in his cam­er­a­work, is pal­pa­ble. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy keeps play­ing with light and shad­ow, always to dra­mat­ic effect.

Smooth­ly com­bin­ing main­stream cin­e­mat­ic ele­ments (for e.g. the sexy dance sequence on the boat), the screen­play does leave you with many unfor­get­table sequences. The son imi­tat­ing the don in front of his friends. Nayakan’s anguish at his son’s death – a long sequence with no back­ground music until the end. The sequence of the killing of his wife end­ing with her fall from the upper storey of their house, while Nayakan is left cling­ing to her saree in his des­per­ate attempt to save her. And then, he fum­bles and the saree too falls down – an unmis­tak­able Kamal Haasan touch. His con­fronta­tion and argu­ment with his daugh­ter over vio­lence as an act of revenge against rape, of which she is not aware, while the side­kick is caught in between them. His moral con­vic­tion while forc­ing a doc­tor to attend to a sick child. This film would not have been as great if it were not for Kamal Haasan, one of India’s great­est actors.

Ilai­yaraa­ja’s score deserves a spe­cial men­tion in Nayakan – his 400th film. The score pro­vides the per­fect back­drop to the entire spec­trum of action, romance, adven­ture, com­e­dy, and tragedy. Notably, all the songs are woven into the screen­play rather than being intru­sive ‘must-have’ song and dance num­bers. Nayakan’s first meet­ing with his wife-to-be in a broth­el is par­tic­u­lar­ly evoca­tive because of the score. Lis­ten to the back­ground score and view stills from the scene here, to get a glimpse. He is, tru­ly, a Mae­stro.

Noteworthy Mentions

North by North-West, Hitchcock’s adven­ture caper with a sequence of mem­o­rable scenes that have made this one of the most pop­u­lar Hitch­cock films.

Noriko, one of the most stun­ning and pow­er­ful films I’ve ever seen. Noriko is a child born with­out arms, but who is extra­or­di­nar­i­ly dex­ter­ous with her feet. The movie is about her strug­gle to get admis­sion to a school, grad­u­ate, pass an employ­ment exam, work at a munic­i­pal office, make friends, and to live a nor­mal life as best as she can.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this movie is not eas­i­ly avail­able, your best chances of see­ing it are at a screen­ing by the Japan­ese Embassy in your coun­try. They reg­u­lar­ly screen Japan­ese films for inter­na­tion­al audi­ences. If you do get an oppor­tu­ni­ty, I promise that it will be worth your while. The open­ing and clos­ing sequences of this film will remain with me as long as I live.

Nis­hant, Shyam Benegal’s clas­sic that was nom­i­nat­ed for the Palme d’Or at the ‘76 Cannes.

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  • Nayakan is very much on my list, and I won­der if a film with sub­ti­tles is avail­able. I like Hitch­cock too as long as its not hor­ror. Noriko sounds inter­est­ing. You sure have seen a lot of movies!!

  • Dev

    Noto­ri­ous was one of the best Hitch­cock­ian films I have seen. The absolute­ly thrilling par­ty scene is a great learn­ing expe­ri­ence in under­stand­ing how sus­pense is built step by step..
    Thanks for the infor­ma­tion on Noriko…

  • Dot­tie

    I have not seen Noto­ri­ous or Nayakan 🙁 Have to see Noto­ri­ous now!!

  • loved the “N” selec­tions.
    loved the way Hitch­cock did that extreme­ly long kiss scene with dia­logues thrown in, to bypass cen­sors. great to see a Cary Grant with shades of grey. which, is what i missed in North By North West — he plays Cary Grant 🙂

    Nayakan was a bril­liant piece of work — Kamala­has­san in, pos­si­bly, his best per­for­mance. It would have been bet­ter but for the obvi­ous hat tips to God­fa­ther. the death of Surya for one, the man­ner of speak­ing by nayakan, too much Bran­do, — for the oth­er. But, i am nit­pick­ing. it was bril­liant. loved the scene where he goes to a broth­el and lets the girl (his future wife) study maths !!

  • Anand

    You will be sur­prised, but I saw Noto­ri­ous half way through and then had to go some­where and so couldn’t see the end. Will see the entire movie again some­day.

    Nayakan is awe­some. Kamal Haasan is one of the rare actors in India who takes lots of effort while per­form­ing each and every role.