Thoughts on few films at MFF

Posted: October 26, 2014 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

We are still nursing a hangover of MFF 2014, more so now after this week’s Bollywood release.  Hence this post.

Kushal Chowdhary is a Bengali. Brought up in Gujarat. Lives and works in Bombay and dreams of no work and Tuscany. Hobbies are reading, movies and cricket. Like everybody else in India. He has written a series of travelogues on Istanbul, Mognolia, Tuscany, Siberia for rediff.

Over to @kushalchowdhury –

The Mumbai film festival ended this week, and with it seven days of waiting in queues and overhearing amusing conversations and watching plants grow.


There’s already plenty that’s been written about most of the films here and elsewhere. I doubt if I have anything significant to add. But here’re my thoughts on 7 of them anyway.

1. Barf (Iran; Dir: Mehdi Rahmani)

A young man in the army returns home for a break and finds his one-wealthy family fallen on hard times. Over the course of the film, we meet the various members and gradually learn of their problems and motivations in details and the undercurrents that run in the family. Hardly a novel setup.

For me, there are two aspects of the film that separate it from the dozens of other dysfunctional family films I’ve seen. One, that it knows that the wealthy can’t ever truly become poor. They may know they are no longer wealthy and that they must adapt themselves to a different lifestyle; they can even be successful in doing so in all the obvious ways, but there’re always little things that they cannot let go of. Clean curtains. A bit of make-up (even some helpful surgery). A sudden craving for pizza.

As a Bong, I’ve seen my share of families like that and throughout the film I spotted little things that brought back many memories.

The second aspect where Barf differs from most other films is that it is able to dig a little deeper into its characters’ motivations than that they are basically decent human beings who are trying to do the best they can for the family, under the circumstances. Almost every good film gets that right. But Barf also shows you that human beings (with their inherent sense of self-righteousness) also believe (are convinced, in fact) they are doing the best they can for the family, while nobody else is bothered. Everyone is unaware they may in fact be more selfish than they themselves think.

That aspect is probably clearest in the case of the sister (believes that getting married to a man she hasn’t yet met is an enormous sacrifice she is making for her family but doesn’t realise how much trouble she has caused by walking out of an otherwise stable first marriage only because she was bored) but is present in every other character too.

Incidentally, it appears Barf does not have an IMDb listing yet. I tried creating one and found out first-hand how complicated it is to do so.


2. Goodbye to Language (France; Dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

I have long since stopped trying to make too much sense of a Godard film. I doubt if Godard could do so himself. Instead, I find pleasure in the visuals (and the use of 3D in this film is far, far, out), the abundant references to other art, and the fleeting moments when something makes sense to me. I think it also helps if, like Godard, one has pondered over everything under the sun and has an opinion on each. That way, it is more likely that something or the other will make sense or even when it does not it will start you off on a train of thought that could be more rewarding than what the film itself has to say.

The sight of a dog being carried away (quite happily, judging by the expression on its face) by a strong river current has stayed with me. As have the sounds of farts. And several other images which I am not even sure were actually present in the film.

Why was a child allowed at the screening? Are children also offered passes for MAMI?

3. Corn Island (Georgia; Dir: George Ovashvili)

I am generally partial towards films such as this, and I admit I may be praising it more than it deserves. It certainly isn’t as good as Sweetgrass or Le Quattro Volte or even Rivers & Tides (which isn’t really the same type of film but comes together with the rest in the DVD box set in my head). But like those other films, it too approaches questions of existence and meaning by focussing on simple unadorned lives and stories.

An unusual natural phenomenon creates temporary islands in the middle of a river every year. At the same time, the river swells so much its banks become uninhabitable. And so, each year, men set out into the river looking for a temporary island and whoever finds one first owns it for the duration of its existence. He brings his family, builds a house and grows corn on it. And then, when the rains come, the island is washed away and everybody heads back to the banks.

Corn Island focuses on one such man, his grand-daughter and one such cycle. Nobody speaks much and there is no need to. Because the film is set in Georgia and Russia is right around the corner, there are also soldiers on patrol. And occasional gunshots. Some of that, in my view, diverts too much attention from the central themes of the film (or what I think should be the central themes).

There is one sequence in the second act that is oddly out of sync with the rest of the film. A couple of characters behave in a way that isn’t organic to their nature. And the final act probably gets too literal with the film’s metaphor. There was no need to shoe-horn such obvious tragedy into a film that really should be more evolved than that.

Still the water

4. Still The Water (Japan; Dir: Naomi Kawase)

A film full of poetry. Observes the lives of people on a Japanese island and tries to find meaning in the mundane.  Succeeds most of the time. Of all the different segments, the one that transcends the rest of the film is that which observes a family – father, mother and daughter. The mother is in her thirties (or perhaps early 40s) but is ailing and does not have long to live. The family knows it and they spend their last days together in corners of their house that they have come to love and their conversations are filled with humour, affection, melancholy and acceptance. The Japanese culture has a rare grace and wisdom in how it deals with and embraces the subject of death (Ebert writes about it here with more elegance than I ever can) and no matter how many films I see and books I read from that country, it never ceases to fill me with wonder.

The opening scene is that of an old man hanging a goat by its legs and making a cut at the neck from where the blood slowly drains out. The goat bleats for a while and the man stands by it, patting it affectionately until it stops, and perhaps contemplates his own mortality. Cruelty and compassion co-exist in the same act.

The scene has little to do with the rest of the film but then, that’s the kind of film this is.

5. Two Days, One Night (France; Dir: The Dardenne Brothers)

I am not quite sure if the central premise of the film is realistic – a small business owner offers his employees the choice between their losing their annual bonus (1000 Euros) and losing a co-worker (Marion Cotillard). The recession has not been kind to the operation and it is impossible for the owner to arrange funds for both. Most people (14 out of 16) choose to take the bonus (and therefore leave Cotillard out in the cold) the first time they vote but Cotillard convinces the owner to organize another vote two days later and then sets out to meet all 16 co-workers over the course of a weekend.

I don’t know if any owner would actually come up with a choice like that (very unlikely I believe) but as far as setting up a film to explore the clash between the morality of doing the right thing for another person and the need to do the right thing for yourself, it is a brilliant setup.

Unsurprisingly, once you buy into that premise, it is a great film.

Two Days, One Night

I was also keen to see (like most people, I suppose) why the Dardennes, having built a career out of casting unknown faces, felt the need to have Marion Cotillard for this film. The reason’s evident, once you watch the film. Her performance and interpretation of the character is central to the film’s success. It is the sort of character that, on the basis of merely what must’ve been in the script, could easily be played with unimaginative straightforwardness.  And that’d have made the film many degrees poorer.

6. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel; Dir: Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz)

Fascinating film, without doubt. And in many ways an excellent indictment of the Judiciary. But I also wonder, what exactly is the alternative? Yes, the first few times when the husband refuses to turn up in court, it is a clear case of the law needing to be revisited. But, once he does start appearing, this is what the scenario looks like – Both are present – neither is willing to accuse the other of anything that resembles grounds for divorce – the husband is unwilling to agree to the divorce – the wife wants it because they aren’t compatible as a couple. How do you frame a law to handle that?

The more I think of the film, the more it seems to me like it should actually be about the absurdity of expecting the Judiciary to sensibly handle a case like this rather than being an indictment of the Judiciary.

'71 film still

7. ’71 (England; Dir: Yann Demange)

Somebody please explain to me the layout of the building that is the venue of the central sequence in the film. How many floors? How many wings? The crack in the wall was where? Where did it lead to? How were the hunters spread out? How could nobody see the prey walking out in the open for an entire wing? For the centrepiece action scene in an action film, isn’t this stuff important?

Great sequence leading up to and right after the blast at the bar, though.

I liked several other films too, this year (in fact, hardly disliked any, except Lessons in Dissent) – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Clouds of Sils Maria, Charlie’s Country (the actor had me at Hello). But 7 is already too many.

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