A Moment To Remember (2004)

Country: South Korea

The lure of a touching love story is hard to resist. That is perhaps why many people turn to Korean cinema. There is something about Korean romantic films that creates a warm feeling inside, but at the same time, helps in catharsis. If there is one movie that meets these criteria perfectly, and still stands out as a memorable film in its genre, it is ‘A Moment To Remember’.

A Moment To Remember is the story of a couple from different social classes. When they fight the odds to get married, a shocking twist in fate tests their love for each other. This is the story of love’s fight in the face of adversity, and the emotional tale of enduring love.

Son Ye-jin and Jung Woo-sung play the protagonists and make a realistic ‘in-love couple’. Woo-sung’s seeming stoicism and Ye-jin’s cherubic personality clash, but this contrast is what gets this film’s point across. You can be very different in terms of social standing and personalities, but love knows no bounds.

The film, directed by Lee Jae-han, is an engaging one and will keep viewers interested in love stories engrossed. While the first third of the film takes on the form of a romantic comedy, that ‘mood’ soon dies down, and more serious matters come to the forefront.

The acting, by two of South Korea’s famous actors is noteworthy, and they are convincing in their roles. The film is structured well and flows coherently, highlighting apparently unimportant details in the beginning, which end up making sense as the story progresses.

The film does get melodramatic at points, but it does not ruin the overall experience.

A Moment To Remember is shot well and though the cinematography is not brilliant, it works for the film. The music plays out as a companion piece to the film, but is not exceptional as a standalone soundtrack.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you like to ‘indulge in’ emotional love stories every now and then. Also watch it if you’re trying to get yourself to cry.

Avoid it if you think romantic films about enduring love are just not for you. Also avoid it if you would pick action over drama any day.

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Devdas (1955)

Country: India

A few love stories have made a real impact on Indian consciousness; Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Anarkali-Salim, and Devdas. Whereas the former three are legendary and have been passed on for years, Devdas stemmed from the creative and mature mind of a young and prolific writer in 1901 (though the book was published in 1917).

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Bengali writer who became one of the most revered intellectuals of his time, might never have dreamed that Indian cinema would be fascinated by one particular story he wrote about doomed love. However, Devdas has been made and remade several times in many Indian languages including Hindi, Telugu and Bengali. In 2010, a Pakistani film was made on the same story.

Devdas is the story of two childhood friends – Devdas, the son of a rich landowner, and Paro (Parvati), his poorer neighbour. Devdas is sent away to boarding school in Calcutta when he grows troublesome. He returns as a man. The latent love that existed in the childhood friends awakens, and Paro’s family approaches Devdas’s family with an offer of marriage. However, they are shunned because of their low social standing and Devdas is unable to fight for his love. Disillusioned, he flees to Calcutta, leaving Paro alone to her fate.

In Calcutta, Devdas meets Chandramukhi, the courtesan with a heart of gold. He despises her for her profession, but Chandramukhi is drawn to him. Devdas wastes away his life drinking alcohol, with his childhood love forever in his mind.

The fate of these characters is very well known to Indians, but The Movie Matriarch will not reveal the rest of the plot in consideration of other non-Indian moviegoers.

The 1955 version of Devdas, directed by the renowned filmmaker Bimal Roy, is considered to be a classic in Indian (Hindi) cinema. It stays true to the spirit of the book, and features some of the best actors of their time; Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen and Vyajanthimala.

The authenticity of the film is one of its greatest strengths. Shot very much on location in a village area, the film completely captures the feel of rural Bengal in the early 20th Century. Whereas some later versions of Devdas resorted to using opulence and glamour as a selling point, Roy’s Devdas gains its reputation from its realistic portrayal of settings, emotions, and societal attitudes of its time.

The story of Devdas is essentially a psychological study into the mind of a character who is too weak to take any action. What makes this story different is that the female protagonists are much stronger than he is, but their strength is tested as a result of their weakness for him.

Roy perfectly captures the psychological aspects of the story and gives Dilip Kumar a chance to immortalise the character of Devdas on celluloid.

The music in the film is one of its highlights. The songs and background music were composed by S.D. Burman, who provided the film with an iconic soundtrack. Songs such as ‘Jise tu kabool karle’, ‘Mitwa laagi re ye kaisi’, ‘Ab aage teri marzi’, ‘Woh na aayenge palat kar’, are appropriately placed in the film, without being saccharine or wearisome.

The film is in black and white and that does not necessarily take anything away from its brilliance.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you are interested in a film based on a love story that India loves. Also watch it for the well fleshed out characters, realism, and emotional depth.

Avoid it if black and white movies are not your cup of tea. Also skip it if doomed love is not your kind of genre.  

Baran (2001)

Country: Iran

Very few films about love touch you in a way you cannot explain. What is love exactly? How does one depict it in films? Is it about conversations and coffees, or suffering and anxiety? Is it physical, or platonic?

While most love stories follow the same pattern of two people falling in love and then fighting the odds to be together, or basically ending up with heartbreak or death, a few love stories are depicted in a way you cannot possibly predict, and Majid Majidi’s Baran is one such film.

Iranian New Wave cinema has a lot of feathers in its cap for its projection of everyday life – the ‘mundane’. Only that ultimately we discover that everyday life is not as mundane as we would like to think. There are small things, that usually go unnoticed, that are beautiful.

Majidi is one such director who stuns. Though his focus on the everyday ‘mundane’ is as realistic as life itself, his stories never run dry and they never become predictable. Just as unpredictable as life, his stories keep you guessing (not like a suspense film) because they are like unraveling the uncertainty of real life.

Baran is a film that is not only visually spectacular, but is emotionally profound. It is a story about love; love that transcends cultures, languages, and ultimately, egos. It is like a visual poem that unfolds the story of two young protagonists and their love against the backdrop of a building under construction.

Set in modern day Iran, the story revolves around a Kurdish Iranian construction worker and an Afghan girl. Though resentful of the girl initially, the boy eventually finds himself in love with her after he discovers a certain secret about her. It is this love that drives him to protect her from a distance so that she is unaware of his involvement in helping her.

Their love is a silent one – where any conversation between the two is barely present. Instead, what is apparent is the extent to which a person is willing to change for a change in heart.

There are no green fields and stolen glances in this film. There are only fuming tar drums and concrete, and a lot of mud and rain. But one has to see Baran just to appreciate how the bleakest imagery can be made beautiful.

To watch Baran, you need to put aside everything you know about conventional love stories, because ultimately we know how to expect complications and conflicts in films we watch, and Baran may be a let-down if it is viewed with similar expectations.

Instead, watch it as one watches real life from a distance, and you will not be disappointed.

The smoke from the tar drums, pigeons flapping their wings, and Ahmad Pejman’s emotive soundtrack are sure not to elude you.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you do not always expect a physical angle in a love story. Also watch it if you want to see a completely realistic way of life.

Avoid it if you are looking for action, climaxes and denouements.

The Colour of Pomegranates – Sayat-Nova (1968)

Country: Armenia (at that time the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic)

There are some films that choose not to tell stories, but choose instead to show slices of art. The Colour of Pomegranates, directed by the acclaimed Armenian director Sergei Parajanov, is exactly that kind of film. If you’re looking for a plot line, you’ve chosen the wrong film. But if you go with an open mind to enjoy art for its own sake, The Colour of Pomegranates is one movie you should not miss.

You will perhaps never see such stunning and sometimes surreal visuals on screen. And though the film is dated now, the composition of frames, the use of colour, and the stark imagery is still unforgettable.

The film is based on the poems of a famous Armenian bard – Sayat Nova. Though the film is not a biography of the poet’s life (as it clearly mentions in the opening credits), it goes through his life using the imagery in his poems.

For non-Armenians, this film is sure to be confusing. It may also be confusing for Armenians. The best way to go about watching this film is knowing that the film is about the life of the poet and it does not attempt to be biographical. Instead it is made to resemble Armenian illuminated miniatures and the imagery is supposed to make the most impact.

This is not a high budget film and it is shot primarily in Armenian monasteries. The colours are stark and symbolic, and the music by Tigran Mansuryan is definitely surreal and haunting.

If you’re looking for something experimental, The Colour of Pomegranates is the right film to pick. It may not leave you with the satisfaction of having watched a film with a coherent plot line, but its visuals will stay in your mind long after you have watched the film.

Ever heard of the term ‘visual poetry’? This is it.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you like experimental cinema or want to watch l’art pour l’art.

Avoid it if you get bored easily. Also avoid it if you do not like to watch films without a storyline.