A Single Man

The Herald: June 2010

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A Single Man

Directed by Tom Ford

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mathew Goode, Gennifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult

George Falconer wakes up from a dream where he kisses his dead lover amidst flurries of Detroit snow. His pen has leaked black ink onto the bed-sheets. He raises a hand, touches his lip and leaves an inky reminder of that ghostly kiss. These are the opening moments of Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’, based on the novel by the same name by Christopher Isherwood. As can be expected of a Tom Ford venture, the film is meticulous, beautiful, a series of advertisement-worthy images. George (Colin Firth) is mourning the loss of his partner of sixteen years, Jim (Mathew Goode), who has died in a car crash on a snowy road, with their two dogs. George receives a late-night, clandestine phone-call from Jim’s cousin, informing him of the death – he is refused permission to attend the funeral.

Eight months later, stricken with grief, George decides to end his life and plans his last day – He lays out the clothes he is to be buried in, insurance papers, farewell letters, cash, keys and instructions (such as his desire to be buried in a tie with a Windsor knot). Everything is precise, planned and perfect – there will be no unexpected endings as long as he can control the situation. The film follows Falconer on his last day, as he cleans out his office at the local school, gives a lecture on Aldous Huxley and the culture of fear in America (apt, as the film is set at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis) to a room full of bored teenagers and visits his friend Charley (Julianne Moore). Ultimately, it is the unexplored possibilities that arise during his day – an unlikely friendship with a student (Nicholas Hoult), a drunken tryst with Charley or a conversation with charming hustler from Madrid – that inject hope and humor into his otherwise-isolated existence. ‘A few times in my life,’ says Falconer, ‘I’ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds…the world seems so fresh as though it had all just come into existence…I’ve lived my life on these moments.’ It is Ford’s breath-taking exploration of these moments that lend ‘A Single Man’ beauty and poignancy.

Ford curates each scene as though it is a fashion-shoot from the era, enabled greatly by the production design team from Mad Men. Blonde Brigette Bardot-look –alikes smoke cigarettes with insouciance during Falconer’s classes, Charley smokes pink Sobranie cigarettes and does the twist to Booker T and the MGs. Ford uses a changeable, mercurial color palette to illustrate shifts in George’s mood – color flushes the screen’s images when George is happy, every image is brought into sharp relief and George is visibly relaxed. A lush soundtrack by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski accompanies this visual trickery, with stand-out pieces by Shigeru Umebayashi (a frequent contributor to Wong Kar-Wai’s films).

A Single Man’ is a far cry from the provocative images we have come to expect from Tom Ford, who has been at the helm of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Firth is the perfect narrator for Ford’s meditation on loss, grief and love – when George learns of Jim’s death, Ford’s camera is unflinchingly, uncomfortably close to Firth, minutely detailing his breakdown and breathless sobs. The film is intercut with remembrances of Jim and George’s sixteen-year relationship, from their initial meeting to their life of domestic bliss – Ford’s representation of the couple is unexpectedly chaste and gentle. The film also comments on the perception of homosexuality in America during the 1960s – during a time of social and political upheaval, Falconer’s neighbors disdainfully think of him as a man who is “light in his loafers”.

With ‘A Single Man’, Ford confidently tackles Isherwood’s seminal text – the result is a successful foray into filmic territory otherwise explored by Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-Wai.

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Bhutto: What More Could You Ask For?

The Express Tribune: June 14, 2010

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Bhutto: What More Could You Ask For?

I am someone who has saved the ticket stubs for every movie I have been to since I was sixteen years old. I could watch paint dry, as long as it is projected onto a screen in a darkened cinema hall. But this Saturday, I would have gladly burned to the ground a certain cinema near the sea. I was there to watch Bhutto. How was the documentary? It would have been nice to see it. Literally. The film was in a widescreen format that did not fit the cinema screen and hence, the documentary came to resemble a student art-film replete with fractured, disjointed images. I feel worst for one faceless woman who was interviewed – all we saw was her chest and heard her disembodied voice.

At the end of the day, this is Pakistan. We have all had our share of pirate films. It was ultimately the audience that made Bhutto such a unique experience.

A woman sitting in front of me brought her two young children to ostensibly give them a crash course in Pakistani history, complete with a child-friendly version of the Hudood Ordinances. And I’d like to recommend the lady sitting two rows behind me as a translator to the film’s producers, should they need one. This lady’s friend did not speak a word of English and needed all content translated into Urdu for her – it was like a live version of Cliff’s Notes, complete with discussions about Benazir’s children, family, clothes…

To the gentlemen sitting next to me: perhaps the lack of ashtrays was your first clue that this cinema was a no-smoking zone?  For future visits, I believe the cinema needs to issue this caliber of visitors with some guidelines – foremost on the list would have been the request not to treat your usher like a waiter at Rajoo Ice-cream and ask him to fetch you tubs of Movenpick Ice-cream.

Ultimately, I’d like to thank KESC – two power breakdowns forced us to sit in the dark and ruminate on the contents of the film. Perhaps this might have been more interesting if we didn’t know how the story would end? The cinema displayed a 30-second countdown on screen for the duration of these breakdowns. Of course, keeping Pakistan Standard Time in mind, these 30 seconds stretched into five minutes during one power breakdown. The very helpful cinema staff ensured that once the film was back on, we were able to recap what we had already seen.

For Rs. 350 per ticket, what more could you ask for?

TEDx: Stand Up And Sing

The Express Tribune: June 4, 2010

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TEDx: Stand Up And Sing

Sanam Maher

I had the good fortune of attending TEDxKarachi today. The men and women who spoke about ‘What Pakistan Needs Now’ exhausted me – they were engaging, innovative, thoughtful and above all, active. They put to shame all the drawing-room conversations and critiques of what plagues our cities, society and county. The audience applauded at all the right moments – we gave nods of approval to small ideas that mushroomed into actions and organizations affecting the lives of hundreds, optimistic pronouncements about Pakistan and its strengths, affirmations that our nation can be corruption- and bribery-free if we as individuals refuse to feed the beast and so on.

And then, Roshaneh Zafar of the micro-financing Kashf Foundation ended her talk by asking us to sing the national anthem with her. As she launched into the anthem, there was an awkward shuffling in the audience and some voices joined her in singing. The girl sitting next to me said nervously, “Shouldn’t we stand up for this?” Some of us stood up. We summoned up memories of Independence Day celebrations at school or the half-hearted choir that heralded a movie at the cinema. A lot of us did not stand up. A lot of us did not sing.

The irony was painfully obvious – we are willing to engage in dialogue about what Pakistan lacks and sorely needs but too often, unwilling to walk the walk. Standing up for the national anthem is purely symbolic – a gesture that alludes to the love you feel for your nation. As a nation, we may feel fractured at the moment, ridden with problems that seem insurmountable. But stand up. It may be difficult to feel ‘love’ for a nation that resembles the various factions of an overgrown, boisterous family (pushy aunties, pulpit-pounding uncles, overfed and bratty nieces and nephews, the cousin with the inferiority complex, siblings that don’t share…) but the only way we can make any real progress is if we tap into a depleted reserve of patriotism.