If you missed our post on Mumbai Film Festival’s Day-1 wrap, click here. And scroll down to read all the reviews and reccos from Day 2 of the fest.
After The Storm
Hirozaku Koreeda’s new film is an absolute delight. Capturing the lives of a family following immediately after a divorce, the film relishes in depicting and celebrating intimate moments, our fatal, unavoidable flaws that careen us towards destruction and the inadequacies of love, itself. Wonderfully acted and directed with a certain sensitivity, After The Storm is a magnificent film and one of the best I’ve seen at MAMI so far.
While nothing will ever top director Asgar Farhadi’s groundbreaking A Separation, The Salesman is a stellar entry from the Iranian filmmaker who again exhibits his mastery of the modern drama. Ebad and Rana, a married couple who work in a drama troupe currently performing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, move into a new apartment, but the previous tenant’s infamy results in a traumatic moment for them. Farhadi uses segments depicting Death of a Salesman as a metanarrative, using it to voice his frustration with the stringent censorship in his native Iran. There is much to be said, much to be deconstructed in this marvellous, layered film.
Personal Shopper bears a Dario Argento plot, but rendered toothless and senile by an absolutely horrible screenplay written by director Oliver Assayas. Riding high on the success of his stellar Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas attempts to weave a spiritual, meditative story about a psychic medium played by a Kristen Stewart who also works as a supermodel’s assistant. Assayas struggles to make his style work for a story that demands terror, populating it with dialogues that won’t fail to make you cringe. The sole bright spots are Kristen Stewart, trying her best to contend with the awful material, and a sequence involving a brilliantly realised ghost that comes in earlier in the film. The unintentional hilarity gives way to abject boredom when you realise that Stewart has been texting with a ghost for the past fifteen minutes and you just want it to end.
As the credits rolled, I stood in solidarity with those who had to endure this film at Cannes and festivals the world over and shot a middle finger straight at it. Don’t bother.
It was a rather underwhelming day, thanks to some poor planning on my part. After missing the first show of The Untamed, the live music session at the screening of Man With The Movie Camera saved the day.
When it comes to festival films, I look for unexplored subjects or a window into a different culture/s. Set in 1970s Copenhagen, The Commune is a film about a couple’s experiment in group living and how it turns out to be revelatory about their own relationship. Though fascinating in terms of the premise, it veered from the initial setup of exploring the dynamics of the commune to a love triangle. The subplot with a young boy with a heart condition seemed half baked. If the film had invested more in the supporting cast, it would have been fitting. It still engages and has some beautiful moments; look out for the scene where Eric confesses to Anna about his extramarital relationship.
The most persuasive character is that of the daughter played by Martha Sofie Wallstrøm and the lead performance from Trine Dyrholm makes it an engrossing watch.
Amate Escalante’s follow-up film after Heli, whose one bizarre violent scene is still etched in my mind since it’s 2013 MAMI screening. He takes the bizarreness even further this time. A couple goes through shifts in their relationship after a meteorite has an effect over their village and due to the presence of a mysterious creature. A fucked-up relationship drama in its first hour and then opens like a thriller. Telling anything more would be a spoiler, thanks to its anti-climatic storytelling. It has deliciously wicked ‘Tell, don’t show’ moments.
I, Daniel Blake
Another year for a relatively mainstream content winning the Palme d’Or. Daniel Blake, a retired carpenter, in his struggle with the red tape, digital-by-default system to make way for his old-age funds, meets a single mother whom the system has failed equally. Light-hearted and funny initial minutes grow into heartbreaking and severely empathetic tale. Few cliché plot points and utterly predictable climax but that angsty Blake scene wins everything over.
Coming-of-age of two kids on a road trip reminds of Michel Gondry’s Microbe and Gasoline from last year’s edition of the fest, which was also a better film. This one even borrows its climax, but it’s again a genre trope. It does involve cliché classroom romance but fun, nevertheless.
I had never seen any Romanian film till now. It was sheer luck that on Day 2 of the festival I picked Graduation. Other films that I saw on Day 2 are Neruda, I Daniel Blake and Goodbye Berlin – great films back to back but the first film of the day has stayed with me.
Graduation is the story of middle age man who has an estranged wife, a mistress and a teenage daughter. I was able to relate to each and every moment of the film. A fine understanding and potrayal of each character by director Cristian Mungiu. Now I have to check out all his films. Don’t miss this one. #MustWatch
The Road To Mandalay
The Road To Mandalay opens as a simple story of struggling illegal immigrants, but gently unfolds into emotional drama with a shocking climax. Some scenes are going to stay with you forever, like the indicative sex scene with Komodo Dragon.
I was shocked, surprised, and moved by this simple film.
Cecilia tells a heartbreaking story of a tribal woman whose teenage daughter has died in mysterious circumstances. Apart from being a brilliant investigative journalism about child trafficking, the documentary also deals with moral dilemmas – would you rather accept monetary compensation or fight for your daughter’s justice? Pankaj Johar successfully shows the apathy of they entire system and makes you question your role in its contribution. By the end of it you feel absolutely numb. How can you break this vicious cycle when you yourself are a spoke helping it rotate. This is a brave documentary and needs to be seen by more people.
After The Storm
From the director of Like Father, Like Son (a film I really enjoyed), this is a film about…I actually find it extremely difficult to summarize. Truth be told, this film deals with a large amount of little emotions, through little interactions, small and simple scenes involving nothing but conversation. The film follows a private detective and novelist who, in the wake of a typhoon, gets a chance to spend some time with his family. His humorous and lively old mother, his sarcastic and bitter sister, his ex-wife and his young son. The main character comes with his flaws written in permanent marker ink on his forehead. The film is simple in the sense that it shows people trying to deal with how complicated they’ve made life. The best part about this movie was that in its entire runtime, every single interaction and scene reeked with intimacy, a real subtle kind of intimacy that we know people share with people they know and love. Due credit has to go to the writing as well as the acting. That said, the film takes its time to unfold the story, to such an extent that sometimes, it feels like there is no story and it’s just another one of those “a day in the life” type films. If you haven’t got a problem with that, and if you loved Like Father, Like Son, then this is definitely your cup of tea. To me, as good as the film was, it was nothing new, nothing unforgettable.
The Land Of The Enlightened
This was a film that I walked into because I had nothing else to watch. I shan’t say much about this film as I would be doing it injustice. Why? Not because it was out of the ordinary. But because it seemed to have no narrative. It seemed like nothing more than a stylishly allegorical take on Lord of the Flies, minus a narrative, but I’ve already mentioned that part. For the longest time in the film, one scene moved into the next without any seeming relation whatsoever. I eventually lost patience and decided to grab some much needed shut eye. Walking out wasn’t an option as there wasn’t anything else playing that I wanted to watch anyway.
I’d been eagerly waiting to watch this. This was one of the biggest draws at MAMI this year, and rightly so, since it’s written and directed by Asghar Farhadi and it won the best screenplay award at Cannes. With sky high expectations, I sat down and watched the story of a school teacher and his wife unfold. The couple are in the process of putting up an enactment of Death of a Salesman, while the teacher continues his regular day job. When the apartment building they live in becomes dangerously unstable, they move in to another apartment which was previously occupied by a mysterious woman who lived a rather “promiscuous” life. The couple and the previous tenant have nothing in common except for the fact that they both occupied the same space at some point of time. However, life seemed to want to add more planes of intersection, and a brutal home invasion creates a new obsession in the husband to track down both the perpetrator as well as the previous tenant, while his wife deals with the shock and trauma and learns to live with it. The film is rife with everything Farhadi is loved for – his utter avoidance of pomp and show, his completely relatable middle class protagonists who are unabashedly grey, frequent but simple dialogue exchanges, and emotional tension that’s near hair raising. The biggest trademark of Farhadi’s is also present – his story is ultimately a commentary on Iran’s society. Why was this film slightly underwhelming too? Because in the third act, once the perpetrator is revealed, it becomes predictable. Even the emotional tension, while extremely real, feels predictable. To make matters worse, that same third act feels stretched. The pacing goes for a slight toss. It is worth mentioning, however, that even in the midst of the predictability (which actually arose because Farhadi had to set things up early on, he can’t really be blamed for that), he adds a final emotional conflict, something that made things even more tense, something that brought the film back to its core – a story about a husband and a wife. Was it a good film? Definitely. Much better than good. Was it an unforgettably great film? Not to me, it wasn’t.
This too was one of my awaited films of MAMI, but all it did was fill me with frustration. The film has a rather convoluted story (which honestly seems rather genius on paper) about a personal shopper (someone who does the shopping for celebrities who are too high profile to go out and buy their own stuff) who is also a medium trying to get in touch with her dead twin brother’s spirit to see if he has made it to the afterlife. Naturally, there’s much more to the story than that. However, this was a film, not a novel, and a story being good on paper is not nearly enough. Kristen Stewart holds her own for the most part, hell she even shines, but there are a lot of scenes where she seems nothing more than awkward. That could also probably be because of the shoddy dialogues (the film’s mostly in English, so shoddy subtitling isn’t really an excuse here). It could also be because of the entire chunk of the film where Kristen Stewart is doing nothing but texting. Yes, texting. The camera pulls into a close up of her phone as she types and sends texts, receives texts, back and forth for what felt like atleast 20 minutes. By then, the film began to be nothing but frustrating. Assayas also takes his own sweet time getting the plot to move forward, and at one point, the film felt like it was dealing with four separate plot points simultaneously. I think the problem with the film was that it didn’t have one core identity, it was trying to be a lot of things, and in the process, it ended up being nothing much at all. Clouds of Sils Maria is a tough one to topple, but a film that’s as disastrous as Personal Shopper was least expected.
All in all, a day of two good films, two unlikeable films, and zero films that’ll stay with me. But then again, it could be my fault too.
That ‘Holocaust Drama’ is a film genre says a lot about the gravitas of the people who decided to tell stories about this human tragedy. Paradise doesn’t prove to be a very significant film about the holocaust. Richly shot, with visual and narrative references to Tarkovsky, it boasts of some very uninhibited performances (you can endlessly gaze at those faces!).
Andrei Konchalovsky, here, seems to be a filmmaker still caught in time (what’s with the clumsy dubbing?), looking back with empathy at a time when people struggled for grace.
The Land of the Enlightened
Pieter-Jan de Pue’s docu(fiction?) is probably the most gorgeous film this year. You will want to enter, live and breathe inside those frames. It’s also a film with a sound design to die for (explosions had never sounded like this!). There’s little to this film than that. The film sets out with a very Herzogian concept, of examining the travails of a post Soviet Afghanistan invaded by the Americans. Although, it’s bereft of politics. At best, it is an impression of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, providing very little insight about the children it considers its protagonists.
Death In Sarajevo
Danis Tanovic’s allegorical satire is a film of low nuance and severe shock value. Set inside an aging hotel, inhabited by goons, politicians and anarchists, Sarajevo ks brimming with cynical political commentary. It only helps that Tanovic shoots the film with flair, incorporating leisurely long takes that makes for a very intriguing narrative. I felt the film stopped short from having any personal opinion about the Balkan crisis, or Europe as a whole. It’s easy to be cynical and call something as decaying, and it’s quite damning to see it happen because the stage has been set for a delicious political satire. There’s a 5 minute sequence where they rip apart European politics. I have a dream.
Count on Oliver Assayas to make a severely provocative film, once every few years. This might be his most preposterous movie, yet. Personal Shopper is an irreverent ghost fable, with a touch of body horror, that packs a Kristen Stewart performance for the ages. Peter Bradshaw calls it Assayas’ best film in years, and I believe it will pay rich dividends.
PS – There’s an extraordinary Hitchcockian texting sequence in the film, which I wish hadn’t ended
Autohead (Dir. Rohit Mittal)
A noir mockumentary that tries to subvert the mockumentary genre too and succeeds quite well. A film crew follows a violent, suppressed auto waala in Bombay and things spiral out of control. In a post-Nirbhaya India, the questions about cycle of violence have come centre-stage. The film has a heavy subtext of victims of class-violence turning perpetrators of gender-violence, while the privileged try to understand it by turning voyeuristic. Intense-sounding stuff but done in a neatly shot dogme style. Easy to see why the film did well at some of the genre fests it has been to.
The Cinema Travellers
After missing the various rough cuts of The Cinema Travellers at various stages of its making, finally managed to catch it at MAMI, after it’s travelled half the world.I had actually blacked out all the reviews & interviews so far as I wanted to savor it fresh.
And boy, was it worth the wait!
Rare (Indian) docu that managed to moved me. The film explores Cinema as a phenomenon, as the moment of connection when one loses himself and becomes one with the medium! In the making for 8 years, the film shows how the “gift of time” can elevate a documentary film to much more than the sum of its parts. Watch out for a sequence that completely turns on its head the myth that the film assiduously has been trying to build in the first place.
Hounds Of Love
Is Australia the new Korea? From Animal Kingdom to Snowtown and now, Hounds Of Love – going by the cinematic gems Australia is continuously delivering in the last few years, it seems so. A serial killer genre film which is also love-triangle at one level, is atmospheric, and has ample slo-mo montage in the narrative which reminds you of director Ben Young’s background in music videos, but it’s never jarring. This low-budget film has been shot mostly inside a house, but you are hooked to the narrative as one feels trapped like its lead character. Inspired by real life stories, the film is about the psychology of its three lead characters and how their fate depends on how they play each other. The stark arid landscape of Australia gives it a perfect mood. Young is a talent to watch out for.
I went to see this film because the memory of seeing another film by Vinterberg ‘The Hunt’ is still fresh in my mind. And I loved it because like ‘The Hunt’, ‘The Commune’ also poses very important questions in the process of understanding an ideal of peaceful co-existance. Many strangers start to live together (like a big Indian joint family) in a single house to explore the ways of equality, democracy, support and acceptance. Acceptance as an idea seems so ideal and worth keeping atop by all who think of themselves as more evolved. But what is at its heart and is acceptance of outer reality even possible without accepting the whole of our own self?
Man With a Movie Camera
A restored classic from 1929 played with a live jazz orchestra. Promise of this experience alone was reason enough to go this film.
As honest and straightforward as its title. And like the title, it seems mundane but explores the beauty of mundane to the hilt with such passion that it completely mesmerised me. And if this film is able to arouse such wonderment even now, I can’t think of the deep pioneering impact it must’ve had in its own time.
It attempts to deny the help of any established form of art, language or literature to explain itself, in the hope of finding an inherently universal language of its own.
And what does the man with a movie camera find in his mad and passionate quest of rejecting all avilable forms of communication? Yes, according to me he does find the core – rhythm in/of ever present movement in everything – and blatantly shows us as constant streams of abstract imagery.
But beside this, the filmmaker even lays bare the quality of passion itself and defines the process behind any true art.
Like in the film, the body of filmmaker filming or even his camera were the ‘the observed’ aspects. So who is basically observing? Is it not the core of passion when observer becomes the observed and the lover becomes his own beloved?
And is it not the definition of true art when it contains the bare truth of the artist, when both become one, in the truth, as truth?
This was an awaited film for me for its subject of mediumship. It explores the unseen, intangible energy world of spirits through the story of siblings who communicate with the dead. As ‘mediums’, they are attuned to sense this presence of invisible connect.
But what connects? Intuition.
And what separates? Reason.
This struggle between intuition and reason is the quest of faith, which this film is all about. And it explores the question through a ‘medium’ (the sister getting signals from her dead brother) trying to find a sign desperately to satisfy her reason. This gap between tangible and intangible, this faith, demands a brutally honest exploration of her doubts. And this brutal aspect of honesty to gain faith is shown very beautifully here.