Mumbai Film Festival – our annual movie ritual is on. And like every year, we are going to cover the festival like nobody else does it. moiFightClub regulars and readers will bring you all the day’s reccos and reviews.
Managed to watch 4 films today, though the third one made me feel the pain.
ANOMALISA by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
The film whose inclusion alone in the programming made the festival safal for me was watched today. Can’t write anything about it except that Kaufman chacha is GOD. Like there’s observational comedy, this one is an observational tragedy meets existential comedy. Go in blank and come away internal-dancing.
APUR SANSAR by Ray saab
Too insignificant to talk about the film but the restoration work is fabulous. The grain, Subrata Mitra’s oblique frames, Sharmila Tagore’s eyes (aah!), and Soumitra’s shy smile – everything felt like you could stretch your hand and touch it. Pure bliss.
RISK OF ACID RAIN by Behtash Sanaeeha
– Varun Grover
I was surprised, but not by the writing. The script plays like a Kaufman greatest hit record, revisiting all his familiar concerns – loneliness, neurosis, the ephemeral nature of real love, the nightmares, the anthropophobia. But what is a revelation is the execution of these ideas in gorgeous stop-motion animation. In a long love making scene, which was the highlight of the film for me – Anomalisa depicts longing, tenderness, awkwardness, passion with a truth that live action films with terrific actors would struggle to emulate. Heck, for a moment it made me forget I was watching animation – any film that can do that is genius.
Without abandoning the melancholia that defines Kaufman’s work, this somehow feels warmer than his earlier work. It’s also a pithier film and rambles far less, though it has enough quirky homages & Easter eggs to send fanboys into a frenzy. An ostensibly simple story with several deeper layers to ruminate on – it’s perhaps the most grown up animation film I’ve ever seen.
A rock diva and her tightly wound boyfriend are in the midst of a sexy Italian vacation when her manic out-of-control ex turns up with his nymphet daughter and things get complicated. It’s obvious from the very beginning where this one is going, what you want to know is how it’ll get there.
The lush, sexy drama and the strong performances paper over the essential lightness of the material and the somewhat unconvincing dark turn that the film takes in its latter half. Luca Guadagnino’s ability to sketch out messy relationships with a fevered, kinetic intensity, reminded me of Wong Kar Wai in his pomp.
Caveat- you’ll see more of Lord Voldermort’s phallus than you’ve bargained for.
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT by Jaco Van Dormael
‘What if god exists and he’s actually as asshole?’
What a great premise to make a film on, why didn’t anyone think of it before?! This quirky, clever film re-imagines Christian theology and posits god as a terrible, angry lout who screws with people out of spite. His 10 year old daughter, also the victim of his menace, decides to get even and write her own version of the Testaments and the fun starts.
Throw Raju Hirani and Jean Pierre Jennet into a blender and you’ll get something like this. This hugely entertaining film delivers in equal parts broad comedy, stinging religious satire, whimsical fantasy, profundities about human nature and off-kilter plot twists. TBNT looks like a slick, lavishly produced studio film but has the soul of a blasphemous social agitator.
EVEN RED CAN BE SAD By Amit Dutta
FOR THE LOVE OF A MAN by Rinku Kalsy
First day at MAMI and who better to make up for the 2 days missed than Thalaiva himself! ‘For the love of a man’, a very engaging and well-crafted documentary that throws an exploratory eye on the worship Rajnikanth evokes in his fans. Broken in five parts, it takes us into the heart of Tamil Nadu and peaks into the lives of Rajni’s fans to try and understand why they do what they do. We all know the stories of the milk bathing of posters, impromptu dances, instant riots and god-like worship but it is another thing altogether to hear the fans speak for themselves. And when I saw their eyes well up with tears enunciating the importance of their icon in their lives, I realised this is something a non-Tamilian like me, could hardly ever fully understand. But I sat there gaping in wonder and amazement at the power of one man. And the power of cinema. Like I said, what a start!
WIND SEED by Babu Eshwar Prasad
Indian films and documentaries is more the mood this time. I chose this because I am interested in knowing what is being made in India these days, the passion projects, not the market-oriented ‘indie’ films. Wind seed meanders its way through its observations on small-town and big-town people through the metaphor of the road and films, self-referencing itself through the other. It explores several ideas at once, of civilisation, of one’s man’s progress and another’s exploitation, of loneliness and cinema and so on. It casts an observation on these, opening up an idea and leaving it at that, and that is a satisfying approach yet the somewhat loose performances and pace gives a sense of, intentionally or unintentionally, a drag. But despite that, for the roads it takes, it’s quite a road movie. (I am also more in the ‘thought behind the film’ mood this time.)
INTERROGATION (Visaranai ) by Vetrimaaran
Raw, hard and loud, ‘Interrogation’ is a straight-from-the-heart film that speaks about how institutional corruption spares none. Based on a real life story, (‘Lock up’), it adds other events of systemic corruption and weaves a heart-rending tale of cold and cutting crime within the system. It operates at extremely high decibels and one only wishes that if only all that passion was channelised into more intensity than drama, more darkness than realism, more implosion than explosion than maybe it would have been a craftier film. Nonetheless, it scores completely in getting its emotional quotient right, stirring up our souls a wee bit more than we’d be comfortable with.
MICROBE AND GASOLINE by Michel Gondry
Despite my vow to stay away from films that shall be easily available ‘elsewhere’, I gave into some Gondry indulgence. And the fourth film of the (hard-working) day did not disappoint one bit. Two boys, both misfits, both from dysfunctional families strike a friendship, a kinship rather, that Gondry weaves into a wonderfully entertaining as well as endearing tale all at once. Their weird escapades, innovative Gondry-style yet as ordinary as their adolescence issues, bloom into a bitter-sweet story told with equal parts head-in-heart and tongue-in-cheek. After the visually stunning yet mildly disappointing ‘Mood Indigo’, Gondry is back, looks like!
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT by Jaco Van Dormael
It’s one of those “God a. comes down to Earth or b. Bestows power on some idiot to teach him lessons about humanity” movies, except not really.
In Mr. Nobody director Jaco Van Dormeal’s film, God is an alcoholic, abusive husband and father who mistreats humanity. The film posits that God is the author of all our problems and maladies. When his pre-teen daughter, Ea, finds out about this, she decides to rebel against him and sets out to write the new New Testament.
What follows is a film that straddles between heartwarming, bizarre and whimsical and some times all three at once. A scene transitions from comedy to tragedy quite suddenly but without jarring effect, similar to the comics that France and Belgium put out. Like in Franco-belgian comic books, the people in the story have distinct characteristics, distinct faces that border on the cartoonish. God, for example, has a pudgy nose on a scrunched up miserly face that looks as if it were made for scowling.
Most of the film explores the lives of Ea’s six apostles, all of them starkly different, most of them impeccably beautiful. It’s interesting that while Christ’s apostles were all men, of Ea’s six apostles, two are women, three are men, and one transgender kid. They all have great fucking stories, each of them could command a sizable short film on their own but, sadly, Catherine Deneuve’s bit is the most bizarre and least impressive (or maybe it struck me so because I’m not French). However, it makes sense if you just assume that her character in the film is the same one she played in Belle De Jour. I think the feminist commentary of the film falls victim to the French peoples’ tendency to patronise feminity to borderline stereotype levels. God’s wife, for example, is portrayed as a mellow, fearful person, perennially befuddled, with eyes threatening to pop out of their sockets when she isn’t knitting.
If not entirely successful, it’s a fun flick, and inventive to boot, with gags such as God creating ordinary (but hellish) annoyances on his computer with absolute glee, and a recurring motif where Ea deduces what song plays in the heart of an individual (they range from “La Mer” by Trenet to Handel). Interspersed throughout out the film are the misadventures of God as he chases down his daughter, each of the segments ending with God getting beat up a lot.
So, yeah, if you’ve ever been fucked by life, this movie is for you.
ANOMALISA by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
I’m still thinking about the film and what it had to say. Charlie Kaufman is never subtle. He’s pretty blunt, his writing totally on-point. But his bluntness never feels lazy or pedestrian, because he shrouds it in clever concepts and complications. Anomalisa is no different.
Originally a sound drama, Anomalisa is about a guy who’s fucking bored with people. He’s at that stage where people feel the same. The style of the film takes that and runs with it, placing it in the film quite literally. There’s David Thewlis as Mike Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as the eponymous Anomalisa, and Tom Noonan as everyone else. Except for Stone and his lady love, the other characters have the same face and the same voice, kind of like that scene in Kaufman’s first film, Being John Malkovich, where Malkovich enters inside his own head and meets people with the same face.
The film is in stop motion, a beautiful job that doesn’t try to hide the technique or the medium – you see the separations between the two plates (every puppet is made of two face plates, one for the forehead and one for the mouth, each of them replaced multiple times for the animation) that other studios like Laika usually wipe out with CGI.
Some of the expressions they manage to get out of the characters are simply fucking impossible. Some expressions are so subtle they wouldn’t usually work in animation. The film goes to great lengths to humanize these puppets. We see Stone’s puppet stumble out of the shower, its genitals in full graphic view. Unlike the puppets of Aardman and Laika, Stone has a slight flush of red on his cheeks, adding to the subtle reality of the design. These things would, in an ordinary film, add to the uncanny valley effect, that if an object merely approaches reality, it will be more unnerving than an object that does not lay claim to reality at all. Anomalisa, however, isn’t an ordinary film by any means.
The voice acting is magnificent, with David Thewlis doing his finest work since Mike Leigh’s NAKED, and Tom Noonan, as (literally, in the end credits) “everybody else”, managing to make each character feel like an individual but also, not, as it befits the theme of the film. The film works so well it does because of him, and what he pulls off here is nothing short of genius. The voicework really helps imbibe these obviously unreal puppets with a great amount of humanity.
Another interesting thing that Kaufman does is “break” a stunningly beautiful moment with a comic beat, sometimes bowing down to the basest slapstick, topping the moment with profundity. He finds beauty in the pathetic, in our errors and mistakes, big and small. All of Kaufman’s heroes have been pathetic individuals, and one of the joys of his films has been to see him bore into their souls and dig out the beauty that is inherent in them. This is why his films are so human, because we consider ourselves pathetic and he tells us, through his characters, amplified versions of ourselves, that we are also beautiful. And he does the same with Michael Stone in this film, but then he does something absolutely cruel, tapping into the fleeting pointlessness of happiness.
Anomalisa is a great fucking film. And, like Kaufman’s other work, great fucking therapy.