So we read this piece on Quartz India – “A Bollywood-backed Twitter campaign saved the Mumbai Film Festival—but crushed its spirit”. Friends told us it’s a well respected website. Yet to figure out why. (Not that we trust Columbia Journalism grads on desi film industry, most of the times they have no clue about bollywood or indie-bhindies) As we were joking about it, we thought let’s not respond to it till the closing ceremony. Aamir, Madhuri, Anushka, Parineeti, Esha…OMG! So many stars at MAMI! We have never seen them before at Mumbai Film Festival. They killed the indie spirit and how. Look at the winners. Bollywood must not have heard about these filmmakers and they crushed them by giving them awards – Avinash Arun (Killa), Bikash Mishra (Chauranga) and Chaitanya Tamhane (Court). And these 3 films bagged top 6 awards in International Competition and India Gold section. Interestingly, all three are based in Mumbai. City’s fest, city’s filmmakers, what an achievement! MAMI never had a better year than this. If only some people knew what they are writing about.
Moving on, here’s our day wrap of last 2 days
A Soldier is abandoned accidentally by his unit in the middle of a riot in Belfast. I must confess I was at loss quite a few times thanks to the heavy North Irish accent, but this edge of the seat thriller-drama has enough moments to keep you hooked on. The riot sequence and the chase alone itself is worth the watch. Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Look and feel – all top notch in this gritty film. One can feel the pain of the wound being stitched, the weight of the stone being thrown and the deafening screech after an unexpected bomb blast. Watch it.
This film deserves every accolade it has got abroad. Minimal with pitch perfect detailing, long takes & wide shots, performances that seem natural and unrehearsed, a dab of social & political commentary every now and then, and a realistic depiction of a Kafkaesque trial – it at times ceases to be a film and seems like life unfolding in front of your eyes. Easily one of the top films at MFF this year. Do not miss this for anything.
This is as unpretentious and straightforward a film can be. And that’s where lies its joy. A young Jordanian boy is left alone to fend for himself in bandit territory with the bandit that killed his brother. The bandit becomes his protector and the boy needs him to reach safety. Its not the barren terrain alone, a terrain from whose womb few films emerge but an entire world that opens up to us simply by the choices the characters make in this film. If you like films as an observer and seeker of experience, then this is well worth it.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Literary world threatens to envelope the real and the real world reflects the literary one, shadowing each other as the film explores the nature of time and age. Oblique with a lot of subtext, Clouds of Sils Maria is a meta referential guide to an aging actor’s work and life experience as we explore her inner world and art through her explorations of the character she is playing. Absorbing and visually beautiful, the end is mystifying but Juliette Binoche’s glorious performance makes it more than worth the watch even as a the point in its entirety maybe subject to subjective audience interpretation or simply lost. Almost meta referential of tha film again!
Mission Rape – A Tool Of War (Documentary)
Disturbing even at its short length of an hour. The documentary talks about the mass rapes that were used to perpetrate horror in Bosnia-Herzegovinian conflict during the early nineties. Victims and their families fighting for justice speak their stories and how justice has been denied to them. A stark image of the hegemony of patriarchy and the politics of war stares in front of us as we despair at the continuing inhumanity of the world. There is no attempt to dramatise events or manipulate the audience, facts are laid out bare and footage used matter-of-factly. Its short and not as incisive or comprehensive as it could be, but its honest and dignified, and therein lies its worth.
Is it me or was there a major number of women-centric films this year at MAMI?In any case, its a cause for celebration and I did with Girlhood. In fact, what better film than that! Its a journey of an African teenage girl, bred and brought up in a steeply patriarchal culture finding her independence. Not only the thrift of storytelling and the simplicity of narration but the wealth of detailing makes this not only an important coming-of-age film, but a feminist film. Blue as the primary colour in the scheme, girls finding their freedom in acting like boys, the need for male approval, the male gaze and so on and on, the script explores each one of these very important aspects of influence in the shaping of a girl into a woman. A must watch!
An interesting film about coming to terms with the past…Set in lush Coorg that is filmed with a lot of love, it is a the story of Dev, a troubled young man who is trying hard to gather his life torn apart by loss of his childhood home and his love. Love, loss, betrayal with spirituality on the fringes are some of the themes that inform the plot-driven narrative with able support from the lead actors. The screenplay is tight and engaging, the unfolding or rather undoing of the characters and their coming together quite convincing. A minor grouse, however, were the dialogues or maybe it was the way some of them were delivered, that sounded quite banal. An assured debut.
An adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel by the same name, it is an ambitious film that tries hard to embody all of Dostoevsky’s ideas questioning nihilism, utopianism, spirituality and the human condition. Unfortunately, it fails to portray the complexity of these ideas, leave alone present a picture of 19th century Russia in all its multifarious-ness. The narrative is non-linear, something that adds a complex physicality to the film but does not supply the necessary depth or breadth, leave alone create any darkness in mood. Demons is supposed to be an intense literary work, both exploring the interiority of its characters as possessed by an inexplicable evil that is part of human belief system as well as the social conditions of Russia and its politics of the time. The film, despite its three hour long running time does little justice to the dark world of Dostoevsky or the zeitgeist of Russia, confusing hyperventilating for intensity and substituting CG work for surrealism.
The Tree (Drevo)
In the 15th century, a deadly tradition began in the Balkans, which were then under Turkish rule. Krvna Osveta is still practiced in Albania today. But that is not the story of The Tree, though it does flutter in the backdrop. Instead, in three sections, we see captivity (or, as the director prefers to say, “entrapment”) of three kinds. The story is also about power; about struggling against power; about the various shades of power — personal, political, emotional and familial. Intimately shot and powerfully acted against a spare landscape in three main colours, this film will enter your mind and haunt you endlessly.
Slovenia makes only five to ten films a year — and the director, Sonja Prosenc, who graced the screening, informed us that two of the three remarkable leads were amateurs. In such a spare landscape, it is even more remarkable when a director makes such a stunning debut.
The Big Journey
Perhaps the best movies about journeys are those that are not about the journey at all. A devout, French Muslim coaxes his reluctant son to drive him all the way to Mecca — a taxing route spanning 3000 miles. But there are no sights on the way, even though the son would like to stop for some of them. Instead, we enter the minds of the protagonists and travel through their maze of differences — due to a significant distance in their ages; due to their belonging to different times; due to their having different beliefs about religion, and right and wrong.
Their clashes are the age-old clashes of the conservative and the modern; the devout and the casual believer; the old and the young. There are some regular road movie tropes thrown in — such as trouble at customs; thieves and strange companions on the journey. But there is also some great detailing — especially in the last part where we meet travelling Arabs going to Mecca, replete with their customs, their prayers, their caravans.
As the father and son travel farther away from home, The Big Journey becomes all about bridging the distance between two minds and hearts.
Are we a product of our environment? Or do we shape it? Theeb suggests the former. After all, who can shape the mighty desert? In Arabia in 1916, we see the cruel, unforgiving, death-giving desert produce children who see, and accept, cruelty as a routine ingredient of their lives. Of course, accepting cruelty with such equanimity requires fearlessness as well. And we see all of this in both Theebs — the protagonist, and the movie.
Extremely real situations (too close to reality for people who keep tabs on what’s happening), real people and performances. In fact, a lot of people in the cast are not professional actors but they seem natural in front of the camera. Film unfolds mostly in a courtroom where a man (a Shahir) stands accused of abetting suicide of another man. Clearly it’s just an excuse by the state to put him behind bars. While the starting point of the film seem to be inspired from real events, it aims to take a broader view of the society and its functioning as well as its relationship with the state and its institutions by going into the lives of each of the main players.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed by this, given the hype. Powered by a cool ‘vampire-in-a-veil’ conceit and hip soundtrack, it’s fun but doesn’t do anything very interesting thematically or in terms of storytelling, especially given the vast potential of its premise. Instead, it feels disappointingly content in just being an exercise in posturing and Sin-City style B&W visuals instead of being genuinely groundbreaking or revelatory. (Perhaps Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist set the bar way too high a couple of years back.)
Clouds Of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart play off each other brilliantly in Clouds Of Sils Maria, Oliver Assayas’ sharp, brutally funny and super-meta movie with a heart of melancholy. The compelling dynamic and amazing chemistry between the actresses alone makes this a must-watch, even as all the nudging and winking occasionally gets a tad overbearing. The film is too diffuse to be devastating (or a modern companion-classic to Sunset Boulevard) but Clouds of Sils Maria is always compelling, and when Binoche bares her soul with such blazing poise and elegance, it’s hard not to be floored.