It’s that time of the year when we spend our entire day running around from one theatre to another, staring at the big screen, to live inside different stories from different countries which are in various foreign languages. Yes, our annual movie ritual, Mumbai Film Festival, is here. And like every year, this year too the programming is quite strong. Most of them are festival winners from the top fests across the world. But there are some hidden gems and sleeper hits too. So instead of running around muddled with dilemma of not knowing what films to watch, Shazia Iqbal burnt her midnight oil googling and reading about all the films. And these are some of the most interesting ones from World Cinema, International Competition, Rendezvous, and After Dark category.
This is the 1st part of our MFF-Recco post.
Also, a big shout out for the all women MFF team for getting five films in the International Competition category by female directors, especially because it’s a competitive section. This is so rare for any festival around the world, and a huge encouragement for female directors.
BARAKAH MEETS BARAKAH
Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh. Country: Saudi Arabia. Language: Arabic
A Civil servant meets an internet star could be another boy meets girl story but add Saudi Arabia to that and you will know why Mahmoud Sabbagh’s Barakah meets Barakah will have the longest queue during the festival. With great buzz at the festivals, rave reviews, a Jury Prize at Berlin Film Festival, this sleeper hit is Saudi Arabia’s entry to the Oscars.
Director: Mohamed Diab. Country: Egypt, France. Language: Arabic
Mohamed Diab got festival recognition with his first film 678, which was a horrifying tale of three women that deal with rampant sexual oppression and chauvinism in their everyday lives in Cairo. Clash is a one-location story set in a police riot wagon that struggles through the violence-ridden streets, after the ouster of Muslim brotherhood president, Morsi. Diab, a participant of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, puts together demonstrators from different political and religious background in a confined space to see if they can overcome their difference to survive the hegemonized state.
Was at Cannes Film Festival, 2016 and was the opening film of the Festival’s Un Certain Regard section.
AFTER THE STORM (Umi Yorimo Mada Fukaku)
Director: Koreeda Hirokazu. Country: Japan. Language: Japanese
Cannes darling, Koreeda Hirokazu – four times Palme d’or nominee, is the director of Like father like son, which picked up the Jury award in 2013. It is one of the most powerful parent – child drama that questions society and Hirokazu seems to be a master in dealing with complicated dysfunctional relationships closer to home. After The Storm is about a private detective, Ryota who dwells on his past glory as a prize-winning author, wastes his money on gambling and can hardly pay for child support. A stormy night gives him the chance to reconnect with his son, wife and widowed mother.
Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
DEATH IN SARAJEVO (Smrt U Sarajevo)
Director: Danis Tanovic. Country: France, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Language: Bosnian
Danis Tanovic debuted with No man’s land, that won the Oscar for the Best Foreign language film in 2001. His latest, Death in Sarajevo is a compelling multi-layered political satire, where a host of diplomatic European union VIPs gather at the Hotel Europa to celebrate the centennial of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination (An incident that is said to have stirred the First world war) with the resentful hotel staff on the verge of striking.
Winner of Silver Bear Grand jury and FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin, Variety called it “An expertly modulated choral drama that is also one of the most clear-cut and boldly stated summations of Bosnia’s paralysing discord.” It is also Bosnia’s Foreign language film entry to Oscars.
Director: Cristian Mungiu. Country: Romania. Language: Romanian
Palme d’Or awardee Cristian Mungiu’s second feature ‘4 months, 3 weeks, 2 Months’ is the kind of devastating, chilling story that stays with you forever. It isn’t just a piece of cinema that you watched, it’s more like a story you have lived. His latest Graduation got him the Best Director prize at Cannes and is a complex psychological drama of a doctor, Romeo, who is trying too hard to get his daughter pass life-changing school finals to get her out of the depressing dysfunctional Romanian society into a British university. In an attempt to slide his daughter out of the system, Romeo himself becomes part of the corrupt bureaucracy.
DON’T CALL ME SON (Mae so ha Uma)
Director: Anna Muylaert. Country: Brazil. Language: Portuguese
Thematically on the lines of Koreeda Hirokazu’s Like father like son, Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son deals with a turbulent adolescent, Pierre – tall, dark, androgynously handsome, he wears eyeliner and a black lace g-string, while having sex with both boys and girls. His world topsy-turvies, when he gets to know his mother stole him as a child. He is now returned to his biological parents who are trying to make him part of their bourgeois world. With Solid performances and soaring reviews, this one seems to be one of the hidden gem at the festival.
It was shown in the Panorama section at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival where it won a Jury Prize at the Teddy Awards for LGBT-related films at the festival.
I, DANIEL BLAKE
Director: Ken Loach. Country: UK, France, Belgium. Language: English
I saw the festival teaser of Veteran British director’s I, Daniel Blake right after it won three awards at Cannes including Palme D’Or. Watched it again and have been waiting for the film since then. In this moving, political drama, Daniel Blake, an ailing carpenter fighting for his welfare benefits, needs help from the state meets Katie, a single mother who is in a similar predicament. They find themselves in no-man’s land caught on the barbed wire of welfare bureaucracy.
In a helpless system where ‘Man Vs Bureaucracy’ is designed to pitch one person against the other in disparity, this moving relevant political drama exposes the cruelty of an apathetic dysfunctional society. This is right at the top of my list.
Director: Reza Dormishian. Country: Iran. Language: Farsi
A gang in Tehran that mugs people in broad daylight and kidnaps kids from wealthy family that have money through corruption and embezzlement of state funds. An aristocratic journalist and social activist who has been retaliating against Iran’s ‘eye for an eye’ justice system is attacked with acid. A prostitute turned gangster, who is madly in love with another gang member and has to do deal with her lover’s love for the righteous journalist.
Iranian director, Reza Dormishian continues from his social critique on contemporary Iran, I’m not angry right into Lantouri that subverts everything we know of, expect of and seen of Iranian cinema.
Was in the Panorama section of Berlin International Film Festival.
LETTERS FROM WAR
Director: Ivo Ferriera. Country: Portugal. Language: Portuguese
There is a war montage in The Thin Red line where the film asks you, ‘when did all the bloodshed began, how did we land up here?’ Here denoting at war with each other, man against man, the bloodshed at the borders, the brutal killings, the divisive world the human race have created where people die everyday because of an unnecessary conflict. Thematically Letters From War lingers on similar line of questioning from a point of view of a lover longing for his wife.
Based on the letters of famous Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes to his wife, the film tells the story of a young doctor being drafted into the army in 1971, and transferred into one of the worst zones of the colonial war – the east of Angola. In the uncertainty of the war events and everyone’s struggles to escape the bloody horrors of the conflict, it is the letters that help him survive. The film is Portugal’s Foreign language film entry for Oscars. It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival
Director: Gael Garcia Bernal, Anurag Kashyap, Mia Wasikowska, Natasha Khan, Sion Sono and Sebastian Silva.
Country: UK, USA, Japan, India, Australia, Argentina. Language: English, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish
Madly is an anthology of six short films directed by Gael Garcia Bernal, Anurag Kashyap, Mia Wasikowska, Natasha Khan, Sion Sono and Sebastian Silva. From the issues of post partum depression, coming out, woman’s pubic hair, orgy, to how pregnancy affects a couple already in a doubtful relationship, it explores the emotional core of modern love and relationships in all its forms – dark, ecstatic, crazy, empowering and erotic. Our own Radhika Apte won the best actress award for her segment in Kashyap’s Clean Shaven at Tribecca Film Festival.
Director: Pablo Larrain. Country: Chile, Argentina, France, Spain, USA. Language: Spanish
This is NOT a biopic on the popular Chilean Politician-poet. Pablo Larrain uses anti-biopic structure to examine the role of a radical artist in the society rather than social drama of focusing on the life of a writer.
1948 Chile. In the midst of Cold War, Inspector Peluchonneau is assigned to arrest Pablo Neruda, who became a fugitive in his own country for going against the government and ‘being the most important communist in the world’. Meanwhile, in Europe, the legend of the poet hounded by the policeman grows, and artists led by Pablo Picasso root for Neruda’s freedom. Neruda becomes a challenge for Peluchonneau, who starts romanticizing the chase and while doing so asserts himself as a hero and not the supporting character in the story. So now we know why a Neruda film has another character as ‘face of the film’ on the poster.
Screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Was selected as the Chilean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
OLD STONE (Lao Shi)
Director: Johnny Ma. Country: China. Language: Mandarin
Canadian Chinese director Johnny Ma, who is a recent alumnus of Sundance Screenwriting/ directing lab, makes a powerful debut with his gritty, realist social drama Old Stone, which recently won the award for Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF. After a car accident, Mr. Old Stone, a cab driver in a small town in China hurls himself into a bureaucratic nightmare when he takes an injured man to the hospital. A place where drivers are known to kill pedestrians they hit to avoid paying for their lifetime rehabilitation fees, Stone’s good Samaritan seems a wronged man for everyone mired in corrupt social fabric of China’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy.
SWISS ARMY MAN
Director: Daniels. Country: USA. Language: English
Somebody thought of a crazy idea of a farting corpse that saves a stranded man from killing himself. Somebody bought the idea. Somebody funded it. In a world of ‘The-audience-won’t-accept-this’, ‘The-set-up-is-not-relatable’, ‘too-risky-to-put-money-in-a-weird-concept’, how the hell did this absurdist surreal comedy get made and premiered at one of the biggest festival!
While it made a good number of Sundance World Premiere audience to walk out in the first half an hour of the film, it also picked up the Directing award. You will either love this one or hate the guts of the makers to pull this together.
THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Country: Denmark. Language: Danish
Dogme 95 Veteran, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt was one of the most unsettling films with provocative, unforgettable imagery. Festival favourite Vinterberg’s The Commune is inspired by his own childhood experience of living in a group.
Set in 1970s Copenhagen, a couple experiments living in a commune that exposes the cracks in their own relationship. Exploring the free love of 70s, Erik and Anna, along with their teenage daughter set up a community full of idealists and dreamers, which is put to test when Erik starts an affair with a younger woman. Opened to mixed reviews, it was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival.
THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT
Director: Rob Cannan, Ross Adam. Country: UK. Language: English
A gripping documentary reveals an eccentric tale of a film couple kidnapped by a brutal, movie-obsessed dictator to improve his films. A South Korean film couple, filmmaker Shin Sank-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee met and fell in love in the 1950s post-war Korea. Choi was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il. While searching for Choi, Shin was also kidnaped and reunited with Choi after five years of imprisonment. Kim Jong-il declared them his personal filmmakers and the couple went on to make seventeen films for the dictator before their escape.
Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it “one of the most staggeringly strange cases of Stockholm syndrome in history – and surely the weirdest story ever to have emerged from world cinema.” Watch the trailer. Get in the line!
THE ROAD TO MANDALAY
Director: Midi Z. Country: Taiwan, Myanmar, France, Germany. Language: Burmese, Thai
Around the world, there are a growing number of illegal immigrants from a war zone seeking refuge in a peaceful, more prospective neighbouring country. Premiered at the Venice Days section, Midi Z’s The road to Mandalay is a powerful and tragic love story about two illegal Burmese immigrants fleeing their country’s civil war, on a struggle to survive the big city of Bangkok where an individual is just a human capital with numbers.
The disturbing account of their experience got it the Critic’s award at the Venice Film Festival along with unanimous good reviews.
THE SALESMAN (Forushande)
Director: Asgar Farhadi. Country: Iran. Language: Farsi
Because two words are enough – Asgar. Farhadi.