With just 2 days more to go, we are now coming close to the end of the festival. Continuing with our daily reviews and reccos, here are the notes from Day 5 of Mumbai Film Festival, 2015.
THE CLUB by Pablo Larraín
Pablo Larrain’s film starts with a Biblical quote about how god separated light and dark so that man could tell good from bad. That’s perhaps why this tale of moral ambiguity is shot in a foggy gray pallete – here the good men of god are upto some very bad bad things indeed.
Set in an sleepy sea-side town, The Club tells the story of a cabal of four delinquent priests and a fiercely twisted sister (their very own Nurse Ratched) living in a sort of hostel for damaged holy men. A violent incident related to the sexual abuse of children forces the harsh spotlight of the Vatican on them and brings a crisis counselor to their doors, tasked with deciding their fate.
This film is a kick in nuts of the Catholic Church. That in itself is ofcourse a proud cinematic tradition but The Club’s power lies in its ability to humanize the moral failings of the men of the Church while never shying away from revealing their depravity. In a way this is an intense psychological study of repression and its horrors – had me thinking about its grim design for hours after it had ended.
Easy to see why Larrain is so highly rated – this film is pitch perfect in its direction & its craft. The mood is terrific, perfectly capturing the insularity and foreboding of a house of secrets. The acting is uniformly strong, helped no doubt by the fact that the casting is excellent. From the pacing, to the background score – everything has the stamp of a master craftsman at work. Don’t miss it.
THE SECOND MOTHER by Anna Muylaert
Val is a loving, matronly housemaid in a posh Brazilian household – indispensable but taken for granted. Her sixteen year old daughter turns up to stay with her, only she refuses to live by the subservient code her mother has internalized for herself – thus setting the cat amongst the pigeons.
The film’s biggest strength is the performance of Regina Case as Val. This could easily have been material for weepy melodrama in the hands of a lesser actor, begging for the audience’s sympathy. Instead Val is funny, daft, flawed, loving & refreshingly real.
This study of class-relationships should be particularly relevant for an Indian audience (we are after all world leaders at being terrible to the help). We all know someone like Val, the trusted maid who is always expected to be there for us but never expected to have a life. Films like this might encourage us to be a lot nicer to her (at a point in the film Val’s daughter fed up with the way her masters treat her tells her ‘this is worse than India’!).
BELLADONNA OF SADNESS by Eiichi Yamamoto
This early ’70s animated erotica film was made by a bankrupt animation studio on a stringy budget, released unceremoniously into Japanese shores, unreleased anywhere further to the West, and never released on DVD except in Germany. It feels like a movie made by people who had just about nothing to lose. Long segments of the film involve the camera panning from one end of an artwork to another, a still frame is broken by the slight movement of a palm or blinking eyes. What it lacks for in movement, it makes up with style. Heavily influenced by Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley and Egon Schiele, Belladonna is a gorgeous sensory assault – probably the most beautifully vicious sensory overload I’ve ever faced in my life. A jazzy, trippy soundtrack by Masahiko Satoh breathes a sort of irresistable sensuality into the movie.
The VHS rip is floating around online, but I strongly suggest that you wait for the restoration to come out on video. It’s very much worth the while.
PLACEBO by Abhay Kumar
I’m sure more eminent, eloquent personalities have put their experience of this film into words better than I have so I’ll keep this snappy. Great fucking film. Probably the most remarkable – in style and content – film to come out of India in ages. It’s importance and relevance probably render it quite unreleasable in India. It’s a documentary about a certain educational institute but I shan’t name it. However, having spent two miserable years in an Engineering college, I can say that it perfectly encapsulates the sense of depression, isolation and nothingness that creeps into you as you gradually become a victim of the beast that is the Indian education system. And, moreover, it felt like two punches : one to my face, because I’ll probably never make anything as good as this in my life, and the second to my butt, because it really pushed me, more than anything else in a long while, to get off my ass, pick a camera and film.
Day 5 MAMI : Yeah, surreal still. Saw filmmakers, actors (popular, lesser known everybody man!) walking around with gay abandon, struck conversations and then camaraderie with twitteratti (this guy had to call security to rid of me), struck a conversation with Vetri Maran and somehow told him that I did not like Visaaranai (he also remembered the question I asked in the first screening in the film) which then turned into a 20 minute conversation where he answered everything I asked (coolest guy, for sure). For somebody who is out of town, from a city of ‘dhandhe waale log’, attending his first film festival, this has definitely broadened my worldview. I think I have a better understanding of words like ‘condescending’, ‘pretentious’ and ‘one of the best filmmakers’. Dimaag khul gaya!
Oh, yeh toh bhool hi gaya. Our ‘film festival’ audiences don’t know the art of laughing in a theatre. This one gentleman I was sitting beside said to me, ‘it would be very good if you did not talk during the film’ just as the film was about to start. And when he started to laugh during the film, it made me feel like someone whose food is falling off from the sides of their mouth. That’s how disgusting this is. It’s only etiquette and it can’t be taught (don’t let the phone ring, don’t laugh like a dog getting beaten up, don’t talk during a film because it’s not as important as gas pe rakkhi sabzi jo jal rahi hai etc). Mainstream audience ke saath naachoonga main next time theatre me, I guess.
PS: I was with Ava Duvernay in the lift yesterday and didn’t realize it until just now when I opened the catalog. Sorry about that.
SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME by Chloe Zhao
Chloe Zhao’s debut film follows a Native family in South Dakota, after the death of their father. A family that has brothers and stepbrothers, and a troubled mother, it will definitely have someone who wants to escape. A brother that wants to escape to LA, a sister who’s disillusioned and melancholic after the death of her father and sets out to discover his world of Rodeos, drugs and cowboys forming unlikely friendships, and how they discover what it means to have a home. And have each other for company. A Linklater-ish film that boasts of a few Terrance Malick shots, I liked it very much. It could have been more tightly knit, but then it’s a Slacker film.
PLACEBO by Abhay Kumar
When I saw Abhay Kumar’s crowdfunding video for Placebo, I thought ‘hata bhaincho, scam saala’. No really, that’s how obscure it was. Mujhe laga aliens ko laake shoot kiya hai isiliye chhupa raha hai. The film, however, is something else. It’s a documentary. Although it was introduced as Docu Fiction, and I did find some parts of the film scripted, and I did ask a question about that, and you obviously know the answer. It captures the humor of the Indian colleges so well, I doubt it will ever get a release (I am an engineer, and I could relate to it). It starts of as an inquisitive brother’s quest to find out why did his brother indulge in an act of violence that ended him with a dysfunctional arm. In the process of being undercover for 3 years, Abhay finds himself in the midst of so many ‘unforeseen’ changes that the personal, intimate film he set out to make has to now take a stand and bring forth a happening in Indian colleges. A happening that’s shocking and heartbreaking, but so common that we take it for granted. I am writing very vaguely about the film because I do not know if I should disclose anymore. But believe me when I say, that this film demands to be seen all across India. For the most part it was shot on a handycam, but you’ll marvel at how technically brilliant it is. The music of the film is a force to reckon with. So is the film.
THE SLEEPING GIANT by Andrew Cividino
Entered into this film because this was the only option apart from the incendiary queue for El Club and Peddlers. A coming of age comedy drama that has very raw, shocking humor (especially a dining table scene, oh my), is brilliantly shot and so coolly edited (three Ship of Theseus, Bridge of Spies level cuts) and bhayanak music. There is a not so subtle homosexual undertone which drives the narrative, but the last 15 minutes are such a disappointment. Achhi film hai waise, dekh sako to dekh lo.
PS: Open ending is a cinematic device that is slowly becoming a festival film trope. Why are the filmmakers so afraid to resolve a film? Lunchbox deserved an open ending, that played with your dimaag. Warna toh yahaan chutiyaap hi tha. There are issues that plague new age films and that is sad because Milap Zaveri will continue calling a great/good film as a ‘festival film’.