losers

Questionable heroes for uncertain times. And for dark winter days.

  • Harry Fabian, Richard Widmark’s troubled small-time crook, in Jules Dassin’s Night and the City (1950). Of all the glorious anti-heroes who inhabit and define film noir, Fabian is possibly at once the most flawed and most haunting – and, rather tellingly, the film was made while Dassin himself was being persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Penniless, weak, deceitful, desperate to ‘make it’ in a dubious world, Fabian spreads tragedy around him. His end brings out the dreamer in him, and his redemption.
  • The Wild Bunch (1969), going out in a blaze. Sam Peckinpah’s outlaws are heading to their demise; and they know it. End of an era, in slow motion.
  • Naked (1993). Stark is the word that comes to mind. Chilling and very close to the bone. The modern-day counterpart of the urban outcast must be Johnny in Mike Leigh’s unsettling film. A mind-blowing David Thewlis, as a man with nothing to lose, a sad, sadistic, yet gripping character; a doomsday prophet with a fierce intellect, who wanders in the city spouting out painful truths; and leaves us with an ambivalent, uneasy aftertaste about our compromised, complacent existence.
  • There is no thinking of the doomed, without thinking of Fassbinder. Anything with the magnetic presence of Hanna Schygulla is good enough for me. But nothing’s like the slow burner that is Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). (As for trespassing to tv territory, this is more a cinematic marathon rather than a mini-series.)
  • How to choose among the eternally charming loners, outsiders, rebels – all those children of film noir – in the French New Wave? To this impossible task, my answer is Au Voleur [A Real Life] (2009), by Sarah Leonor. A peti thief and a school teacher on the run, leave town for the waterways and the forest. Guillaume Depardieu, intense and vulnerable, painfully so, in one of the last roles of his life, opposite gentle, subtle Florence Loiret-Caille, find a moment of freedom, peace, and childlike joy, in this poetic new take on the New Wave themes. The soundtrack is a gem, too.
  • A community forgotten by time are the real-life protagonists of Bombay Beach (2011), a once fashionable California resort. But this is so much more than a documentary of existence on the edge of society. Director Alma Har’el looks at these lives with rare sensitivity, looks beyond the flawed humanity, to uncover warmth, wisdom, poetry.
  • Leaving Hollywood, the rat race, life as we know it; leaving life. Ben drinks himself to death in the warm, understanding embrace of worldly-wise prostitute Sera. Chronicle of a suicide in jazz undertones, in Mike Figgis’s Leaving Las Vegas (1995).
  • Unquenchable, with a desire that could be well called Hunger, are brother and sister in Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011). Yet they are neither unaware nor unashamed, and their unspoken pain shines a soft, mesmeric light in the decadent, dead-end atmosphere of the film.
  • Of all the endearing fighters for lost or obscure causes in Jim Jarmusch’s world, Ghost Dog, The Way of the Samurai (1999) seems here the most apt. Forest Whitaker’s hitman lives and dies after an ancient samurai code and its forgotten sence of dignity – one more modern hero in the wrong time and place, who choses his own singular way out.
  • The alternative Philipe Marlowe, as portrayed by director Robert Altman, screenwriter Leigh Brackett, and Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973). A subtle, inventive take on Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled hero, long after his golden age, he now takes on traits of his writer – who once wrote that ‘of course Marlowe is a failure’. Or is he?

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