MAMI is back. And so are we, for our annual movie pilgrimage. Like every year, moiFightClub regulars and readers will bring you all the day’s reccos and reviews. Here’s our Day 1 wrap.
Director Kelly Reichardt is mildly successful in capturing moments in the lives of her four women characters played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone. A restrained, languid pace, and a lack of melodrama places the film halfway between fascinating and a collossal bore. Stellar acting from the cast, which also includes Jarred Harris in top form and fantastic 16mm cinematography by Chris Blauvelt certainly help.
In NERUDA, about Chilean poet/diplomat Pablo Neruda’s attempts to hide from a fascist government, the director Pablo Larrain weaves a wholly unprecedented form, merging elements of Film Noir, Western, and Terence Mallick to create what I would term his masterpiece. Every scene manages to evoke poetry, what with the editing and the cinematography, done for the most part with a wide angle lens that invites light sources to cast beautiful echoes. The film maintains an even, zen-like serenity even in its more tumultuous scenes, cleverly steering clear of any explicit depictions of the Chilean government’s brutality. Anchored by magnificent performances by Luis Gnecco as the eponymous poet and Gael Garcia Bernal as the detective who pursues him, NERUDA is a magnificent, moving film.
Johnny Ma’s debut feature Old Stone is well made and mildly compelling. While it weaves itself around a fascinating concept – Chinese laws that encourage motorists to kill anyone they injure in accidents rather than save them – it does little else. A shame, because the film is technically quite well done, beginning in a soft cinema verité style that gradually gives way to gorgeously photographed traditional cinema. There is little nuance to his story, little depth to his otherwise well acted characters. Worst of all for a film that masquerades as social commentary, all attempts at metaphor and commentary come across woefully heavy handed.
A documentary about tourists visiting a concentration camp, Austerlitz is fascinating and taxing at the same time. Gorgeously composed in black and white, long, static frames invite us to see men, women and children pouring into a former concentration camp with their tour guides leading the way. There is no point of focus for the audience, no single character or theme you can latch on to, which can translate, quite quickly, into tedium. There is, however, something quite hypnotic about the rhythm of the crowds during certain scenes, some faces and people invite you to investigate them, the grotesquerie of the cellphone camera is in full display in scenes where crowds click pictures as if in unison. I hesitate to recommend this film because it requires immense patience from the viewer.
A gonzo Polish musical about two mermaid sisters who become singers and strippers at a nightclub, this sexy, messy flick gets pretty fucking crazy but never really seems to fulfill the promise of its premise. Some of the numerous songs are quite grating and it never really finds its tone but there’s some great bizarro moments and a constant punchy soundtrack that keeps everything fun.
Neruda (dir: Pablo Larrain, 107 mins)
Pablo Larrain’s Neruda is a magnificent fantasy masquerading as bio-pic. Part truth, part fiction, the story is as deceptive as the titular character — evasive, chameleon-like, and, above all, magical. Staged as a thriller, the film is actually a surrealist painting. Delving deep into the myths about Neruda — the man, the poet, the lover, the people’s champion — the film follows a police officer’s (played by the strikingly handsome Gael Garcia Bernal) futile hunt for Neruda, who’s on the run from his anti-communist government. Shot gorgeously — in a purple haze literally — the camera-work is reminiscent of 40s and 50s movies. Ultimately, however, what remains are the echoes of Neruda’s most famous lines, and by the time you leave, you think:
“The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.”
Austerlitz (dir: Sergei Loznitsa, 94 mins)
How do you watch a difficult movie on a difficult subject? Sergei Loznitsa’s Austerlitz is a black-and-white documentary film that challenges even the most patient viewer. At 94 minutes, there’s no action, as the cameras endlessly record footage of people in real-time.The film juxtaposes the present — tourists, hordes of them in colourful moods and clothes and phone cameras — with the dreadful past at the concentration camps of Dachau, north of Munich, Germany, and Sachsenhausen, just outside Berlin. Does history serve to make us feel better or worse about ourselves? As one tourist poses as a hanged inmate at the concentration camp, you wonder whether the lessons of history are lost as soon as they are learnt. After all, the papers every morning suggest just as much.
Although it isn’t a biopic, Pablo Larrain’s Neruda is how a biopic should be. Set in a pre Pinochet Chile, the film feels like one of Neruda’s poems. Larrain is a master at deriving more from the screenplay than what’s written, and he does that here with visual references to old Hollywood, purple hued lens flares and a truly Nerudian narrator. Gael Garcia Barnel is sachha Neruda. One of the greatest films this year, bakshna mat!
A taxi driver’s travails when he decides to save the life of the person he gets in an accident with. Johhny Ma’s Old Stone tries to take a stark look at China’s dystopia, but gives it up midway for some arbitrary thrills. Could have been an entirely different film, and a good one at that.
The film revolves around a retired music critic who refuses to sell her apartment to a construction company. The film’s setting barely extends beyond a beachside apartment block of Recife in Brazil but gives a great sense of place. The camera work is a thing of beauty and the running time of two & a half hours justifies the languid yet solid character study. The sassy Claire ( subtle and exquisite, Sonia Braga) will give you friendship, grace, sexual confidence and aging goals. What fascinated me the most was how the intangible feeling of ‘home’ is tied to some of the most mundane objects and how spaces are repositories of personal histories.
The Lovers and The Despot (Dir: Ross Adam, Robert Cannan)
Great premise. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (baap of present dictator Kim Jong Un) kidnapped a Director-Actress couple from South Korea to make better films in his country. But the docu turned out to be okayish only, mainly because of the plain, uninventive, non-ironical way it was narrated. Could have been a cracker, but too little to play with (probably because of the iron-wall of N. Korea) as no footage available.
The Lure (Dir: Agnieszka Smoczynska)
A gory, bizarro, creature-horror musical. That sounds yummy and yummy it was! Two human-eating mermaids come to live with a music band at a night club and love, sex, exploitation gets into the mix. Run this through mermaid-based folk tales while beautifully shot and composed music becomes an integral part of the narrative. Winner for day 1 at MAMI!
Under The Shadow
Peter Bradshaw has put it right for this film — it’s Asghar Farhadi meets Roman Polanski. Horrors of political war kills dreams and ambitions of an aspiring doctor who is now left alone with her daughter after her husband has been transferred to another city. Their fears, insecurity (of her being an incompetent mother) and surrounding paranoia culminates into horrors of supernatural. Even though it has all the tropes of a horror film, it manages to surprise and shock at right places. The film deserves a lengthier review to discuss all its metaphors and humane observations. But till then, put this on your MAMI schedule.
Looks like Dilip Mehta is confused if he wants to do a Wikipedia page of Sunny Leone or a Caravan profile. He ends up somewhere in between. If you have read anything about her life trajectory, this film has nothing new to offer. At times, it deifies Leone with people making sweeping statements like “everybody in Bollywood wants a piece of Sunny now”. Mehta interviews people from different sections — taxi driver, spot boys, TV channel head, but asks them the same question about what do they think about her past life. The film is short of perspectives.
The Lovers And The Despot
The fact that something like this happened is so hilarious that I stopped minding its over dramatic treatment. A divorced South Korean film couple — director and actress — is kidnapped by the dictator of the neighbouring communist country for them to make films. It’s a dream for any director to get to make films of his choice with all the country’s money. In a Stockholm Syndrome kind of situation, he did give North Korea its first romantic film and made non-propaganda films… but now the filmmaking itself is a propaganda.
A Death In The Gunj
A death in the Gunj is my story. It’s your story too. It’s a story about life and its vagaries, and our inability to handle it. It’s a story about the weaker ones amongst us and their struggle for survival, almost Darwinian. The story slides through mundane parties and games, and like the town in which it’s set (McCluskiegunj), the film moves in leisure pace giving you ample time to absorb and soak in it. The melancholic aftertaste of the film refuses to leave me. Vikrant Massey who plays Shutu, depicts the vulnerability of his character so earnestly that he keeps you rooted throughout the film. This is such an assured debut by Konkana Sen Sharma that I can’t wait to watch it again.
A fabulous start to the MAMI madness for me. Saw 4 amazing films in this order – Neruda, The Lovers And The Despot, You Are My Sunday & Loev. All completely different movies of different milieu but felt like being woven through some common invisible thread. They became like pearls of same necklace for me and the thread was – a deep realisation within human beings about this fact that our outer realities are mere reflections of our inner creations. Obviously this also says what I am looking for in a film i.e my inner reality. But surprisingly enough, this is not only a subtext which I am deriving based on my interpretations. And happier part of this experience was that 2 of the 4 films were Indian, low budget Indie films – You Are My Sunday and Loev.
Loev / You Are My Sunday
Both films felt so fresh and non pretentious at its conception and writing level itself. And both had this newness regarding truthful exploration of emotional landscape behind Indian male psyche. They blurred the boundary of male and female characterisations and became the voice of human emotions only. The fears, the hurts, the hesitations, the longing and the inherent complexities of understanding love while being in it which remains same at fundamental level for both the sexes. And to see two indian films show this root aspect of human existance so beautifully and effortlessly on the very first day would be the most pleasant surprises for me in this MAMI I think.
Neruda / The Lovers And The Despot
Both the films had one major event happening in the artist’s life which finally defines the artist’s individuality against its environment i.e his/her country and its situations but basically becomes a tale about the power of art and its influence in our politics and finally ends into blurring the persona of the artist even. Both end up telling the same basic truth again – our inner realities creating our outer reality. And when seen in this light, how our individial stories just becomes a symbol, an emoji or a shortcut link may be to take us back to the same basic inherent beliefs (read fears) behind our creation.
In Neruda, this point of creation was shown through the character of Neruda being an enigmatic and fearless poet.
In Lovers and the Despot, this is being reflected by the life and deeds of Kim Jung il, the former president of North Korea.
Both the films were about protagonists getting trapped due to an oppressive system and then the chase for freedom resulting after that.
The Lovers and the Despot at its core is about ‘denial of fear’ being mistaken for fearlessness even by a dictator. And hence the constant state of paranoia. And if this basic misunderstanding is done by a man of power, how it creates a whole society based on false perceptions of every emotion possible.
And Neruda, was the admission of this same truth, in the words of poet itself, which is guiding the mad chase of other protagonist, the police inspector, simply to show him the futility of his own chase at the end.