This post is bit late. But here’s Mohit Patil‘s notes from PIFF, 2013. And as his twitter bio goes, he loves films and scotch. For films, the recco list is here. For scotch, you can ask him on twitter.
First things first, this was the most awesomely organised edition of PIFF. They not only made sure that we got to watch great films from around the world, but also end up learning the basics of film projection before the fest concluded. For most of the screenings took place only after someone from the audience helped the projection operator with his job – like explaining what subtitles are, helping him change the aspect ratio, explaining the difference between the original audio track and the Director’s Commentary, telling him that talking on the phone in the projection booth is bad manners etc.
Anyway, here’s what I thought of the films I saw at the Pune International Film Festival 2013 – The old ones and the new ones, the shorts, the documentaries, feature films, everything.
[ Title (Director, Country, Year, Section under which the film was screened) ]
Epilogue (Amir Manor, Israel, 2012, Opening film):
(Another short paragraph and I’ll be done with the rant, I promise)
I was in a terrible state of mind when I saw this one. They delayed the screening by an hour, then started the film without subtitles, and then after half the delegates had walked out disappointed and about half an hour of hunting for a PIFF authority (and eventually finding none) began the film. Only to allow the projectionist to talk (read: shout, yell, scream etc.) on the phone for a full 45 minutes.
I came across this review by Leda Galanou which nicely sums up what I thought of, from whatever I could grasp of this mess of a sceening of a fine little film.
Story Of A Love Affair (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1950, Retrospective) :
“Giovanna separated us in life… And in death…”
This debut feature film of the Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni is as entertaining as it is a meticulous study of its characters stuck in a labyrinth of guilt, paranoia, wild lust and reluctant pragmatism, and a theme common to quite a few Antonioni films – characters replete with material needs but craving for emotional/spiritual solace. The film throws basic noir elements at us right from the beginning, where a private detective investigates about a certain Paola Molon for her rich suspicious husband, ironically causing Paola to meet and eventually start seeing her former lover after years. And what follows is a dark, incisive Hitchcockian trip.
The Fifth Season Of The Year (Jerzy Domaradzki, Poland, 2012, World Competition):
The opening 5 minutes of the film are highly misleading. It opens with a picturesque long shot of the sea, sunset and a boat enters the frame, all this accompanied by a quaint piano; followed by a close up of a kohl eyed woman playing with a cigarette lighter; the kind of opening which prepares us for a film blatantly art-house in nature. The rest of the film, however, is nice fluffy entertainment: a romcom-cum-roadtrip movie, and a very likable one. The charm lies in its simplicity and although it doesn’t really offer anything you haven’t seen before, it’s the fine strokes Domaradzki paints the characters with, largely aided by the actors that made this one work for me. After one film screening full of sulking and another one which was a great film, but a tiring watch too, this film came as a whiff of fresh air.
Kaliya Mardan (D.G.Phalke, India, 1919, 100 Years Of Indian Cinema) :
The film by Dadasaheb Phalke based on Little Krishna’s mischiefs in the neighbourhood and his endeavor to conquer the giant snake Kaliya was the first Indian film to employ special effects. While Ms.Mandakini Phalke steals the show as Krishna, and the film might be historically significant with respect to Indian cinema, it was a bit of a slog and didn’t really work for me. Full film is available on youtube here.
Duvidha (Mani Kaul, India, 1973, 100 Years Of Indian Cinema) :
Duvidha is based on the same Rajasthani folk legend as Amol Palekar’sPaheli. The story has been narrated through voice-over, allowing the haunting imagery to take over the film, and how! The dialogues are minimal, the frames mostly consist of reds and whites, the camera is mostly static and the actors do little but stare at something or someone. And Kaul incredibly employs this hyper de-dramatized style to amplify the eventual pay off. You can watch the entire film on YouTube here.
(P.S. Since Paheli treats the story as a wicked comedy-cum-romance, an approach completely different than Kaul’s, I’m salivating at the idea of Vishal Bhardwaj making his version of Paheli. Anyone?)
Short Films – Live Action shorts by students:
Allah Is Great (25 min, A foreigner in a politically tense region and his Indian cab driver): The film quite smoothly shepherds us through the journey of and the conversations between the foreigner, who’s here for a conference and his cab driver who’s a die hard film buff, a bade dilwala, and ardently religious. I’m still unsure of the purpose of the inclusion of one of the subplots here. And the film makes me appreciate the ending more than I would have on paper.
Back Against The Wall (14 min, A girl desperately wants the attendant at a shop to know something) : I’d be spoiling it for you if I say anything about the story. All I can tell you about are the performances and the atmosphere, and both are very good here.
Last Calls (22 min, A 17-something girl dials the numbers last dialed by her departed sister) : Wow! This one hits all the right notes. Has a very strong emotional core and terrific mood too. Completely different tonally and structurally, but it reminded me of another favourite of mine, Vihir.
(This was the last of the short films section. Over to feature films.)
Rose (Wojciech Smarzowski, Poland, 2011, World Competition) :
It’s Summer of 1945 and we are in Masuria, a German territory before the war but granted to Poland afterwards. The war is the backdrop and the emphasis is on the two main characters living together under brooding circumstances. Shot in greyish-greenish quasi-monochrome, the film doesn’t shy away from showing us the horrific consequences of war – personal lives shattered by macro-level political moves, but instead of going for kitschy manipulation, it wisely and effectively uses these as devices to develop the relationship between Rose, the widow of a soldier and his colleague who happens to stay with her.
Celluloid Man (Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, India, 2012, 100 Years Of Indian Cinema):
The first “Wow!” of the fest. The 164 minute documentary traces the life and work of one of arguably one of the greatest contributors towards Indian cinema not as a filmmaker but as a film archivist : the founder of National Film Archive of India, P.K.Nair. The film begins with a vivid image where we see P.K.Nair juxtaposed against a scene from Citizen Kane playing on the screen behind him. And the film before us, much like the film playing in the background, builds a fascinating sketch, mostly through interviews, of a towering personality. Through a series of interviews with some important figures of Indian parallel cinema, with each giving insight into Mr.Nair’s life – how he would acquire films from the archives abroad or from the families of the early pioneers, some admitting with a smile and a coy pride that some of their films exist today simply because of Mr. Nair’s relentless and unbiased passion for film preservation. Interspersed with footages from classics, and talks with Mr.Nair himself about his childhood memories with cinema, his “Rosebuds” and how cinema became a part of him and vice versa; the film is a tribute to a man who Indian cinema owes its history to, a fascinating trip to the early cinema, and an important film asserting the importance of film archiving in a country that boasts of its cutural prosperity. What’s more, the screening took place at NFAI and was graced by Mr.Nair’s presence.
The film is scheduled for release in March. Click here for the teaser.
Short Films – Legends We Remember:
I Am Twenty (S.N.S Sastry): This epic docu-short was made in 1967, when independent India was exactly 20. Through a series of interviews with the then-20-year-olds hailing from diverse cultural backgrounds and strata and holding diverse interests and ambitions; the film serves as a sprawling essay on the then past, present and future of India with respect to personal, professional, societal, and cultural spheres through its youth; their dreams and their fears, their interaction with the country, and their take on the varied phenomena India was going through then.
Explorer (Pramod Pati):
Pramod Pati’s exceptional Explorer(1968), a highly abstract experimental short can be said to be a hefty companion piece to ‘I Am Twenty’. If Sastry used conversations with youngsters as a device to present a comprehensive picture of India, Pati shows India torn between past and future, science and religion through a mosaic of random, sequentially rhythmic shots using elemental components of cinema: camera movements, the sounds accompanying every shot and swift focus shifts dexterously.
You can watch the film here.
(Essential reading: 1) A superb exhaustive essay on ‘Explorer’ by Just Another Film Buff
Arrival (Mani Kaul):
Through incessant shots of jam-packed crowd and of the action of eating (consuming), Arrival is a cold, stirring look at the exploitation of life to cater to industrial needs. And even here, Kaul lets the visuals do the talking and the technique is used to maximum effect in one of the most chilling moments of the film, when we’re given a detailed visual account of sheep being brought in, unpeeled and slaughtered, treated like objects; cut to shots of labourers who, much like the sheep, are mere pawns of a much larger commerce.
Daastan-E-AlamAra (Chetan Mathur):
This short uses some 30 stills from Alam Ara that have managed to survive (the film itself is not available anymore) and employs a lyrical narrative written by Kaifi Azmi and sung by Jagjit Singh (citation needed) to plot the story of India’s first talkie. Sounds interesting on paper? Well, the film, sadly, is pitiably insipid.
Khilonewala (S Sukhdev):
The disappointing ‘Khilonewala’ begins with saccharine event when a bunch of children gather around a Khilonewla and he makes faces and sings for them. It was after an assortment of goons (Amrish Puri in multiple roles, to underline the fact that crime has no class or religion) encircle the Khilonewala that the film begins to get unbearable. You can watch it here.
Mandi (Shyam Benegal, India, 1983, Tribute – Ashok Mehta) :
Mandi (Market) satirizes the interpersonal relationships between people directly or indirectly associated with a brothel when a social activist decides to eradicate prostitution from the town. For me, it was darkly funny with some sharp observations and ironies, but ultimately vacuous.
I.D. (Kamal K.M, India, 2012, Indian Cinema Today):
Another Indian Wow! Here, we have a taut, nuanced thriller that transcends the limitations of the “quest to find someone’s identity” sort of films and presents a complex and intriguing portrayal of obsession, and the ambiguity and elusiveness of one’s “identity” as our protagonist gets sucked from her laidback life shot sharply in robust colours into the dusky blue-tinted world of digression. I was quite impressed. The film is produced by Resul Pookutty and Rajeev Ravi, and I don’t see a reason why it shouldn’t find a release. Don’t miss it when it does. And be warned, the official trailer floating online contains a spoiler.
Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, USA, 1966, Retrospective)
Thomas, a fashion photographer spends most of his time clicking the most glamorous “birds” (sic) in the business, who he is fed up of being with. He clicks informal photographs of a couple in a garden and spots a man with a gun hiding in the bushes when he develops them. He visits the garden the next day, finds the corpse lying there and soon intrigue turns into obsession. The film rightfully doesn’t even care to tell us any more about the murder and Antonioni’s Blow Up is really a solemn rumination of its central character’s emotional solitude and his dire pursuit of the feeling of having done something remarkable. For me, it served as a languid companion piece to the somewhat dynamic Taxi Driver. And it’s the muted final scene of Blow Up that takes it to an all new meditative high. Mind Blown Up.
My Father’s Bike (Piotr Trzaskalski, Poland, 2012, Global Cinema)
My Father’s Bike, a delicately crafted family drama with not one, but two sour father-son relationships at its core. The film, instead of judging its characters, gives us a warm coming-of-age picture of a family with its members innocuously flawed and imperfect. In other words, human; but unforgivably so among themselves. And there’s some very good acting at display.
With You, Without You (PrassannaVithanage,Sri Lanka/India, 2012,Global Cinema)
With You, Without You, based on Dostoyevsky’s short story “The Meek One”; designed and scored in blues making us feel the gloominess; is a tenderly composed and deeply moving film about a personal relationship ruptured irreparably by politically influenced deeds of the past.
Night #1 (Anne Emond, Canada, 2011, Global Cinema)
Night #1 could well be described as a darker, more Bergman-esque version of Before Sunrise. Oh, and quite brilliant. Through their profoundly bleak yet romantic monologues, the two characters open themselves up to each other, revealing their true inner fractured selves after a one-night stand.
Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, France/Canada, 2012, Global Cinema)
Initially, I was sort of put off by Dolan’s music video like style and wasn’t sure what to make of certain sequences. It was after some pondering that the film started to grow. The film tracks over a decade of Lawrence Alia’s life and relationships and remarkably makes us sense not only the protagonist’s physical transformation but her emotional journey as well. And with a lot of heart.
Liv & Ingmar (Dheeraj Akolkar, Norway/UK/India, 2012):
Note: I’m fully aware that it’s unfair to opine about a film one hasn’t seen completely.
Implication of the Note: I walked out.
This utterly frustrating documentary about the off-screen relationship between the legendary Ingmar Bergman and his muse-cum-wife Liv Ullmann makes some terrible choices: it chooses peripheral cutesy over insight, shows us random shots of pretty landscapes which make no sense whatsoever in context and intersperses that with clips from Bergman’s films which are so literally synonymous (and thus redundant) with the lines spoken (by Liv Ullmann in the interviews) that it insults the the medium of cinema itself. I myself am a Bergman fanboy but I can’t even give ‘Liv & Ingmar’ the least respectable pass(?) a film can get, that “it’s strictly for fans.”
Heck, even ‘Mohabbatein…’ was less schmaltzy. Cons of going for a film without watching the trailer. Sigh.
80 Million (Waldemar Krzystek, Poland, 2011, World Competition) :
Beginning with dense details and lots of jargon about a confrontation between communists and the opposition in Poland, what we find here is a rather entertaining heist movie about a group of Solidarity activists who conspire to withdraw 80 million of the Union money from a bank before their account would be blocked. And it was refreshing to see a film that declares that it was “based on true events” only in the end credits.
The Adventure (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy/France, 1960, Global Cinema):
Much like Antonioni’s ‘Story Of A Love Affair’, we have a couple madly in love but separated by the dead, by their conscience. And much like a theme common to a lot of his films, it is a study of the emotional isolation of its characters and the complexity of love.
Clip (Maja Milos, Serbia, 2012, Global Cinema):
The disconcerted Clip is crammed-to-the-point-of-rupture with scenes of hyper-explicit sex (so much so that it has little else to offer for most part) and often tested my patience. It’s only towards the end that the film begins to work as an unruly depiction of the wayward, disturbingly nonchalant and shallow youth of urban Serbia. And all those scenes, which had seemed showy earlier, start making sense rendering the film with meaning. A one that takes forever to arrive at its point? Yes, and may be no. May be, the indulgence is the point here. May be the director wants the film to be a metaphor for its characters. Boy, that was repulsive in parts, often repetitive, but ultimately trippy. And a special mention for Jelena Mitrovic, who is absolutely terrific as the disillusioned, riotous Jasna.
Chidambaram (Govind Aravindan, India, 1985, Retrospective):
The imagery and expressive silences render the languidly paced Chidambaram effectively with the meditative quality it was supposed to have. Aravindan explores the personal spiritual journey of Shankaran battling his own conscience.