4 days down, 3 more to go. So this post is about all the films that we saw on Day 4 of the Mumbai Film Festival. If you are looking for reccos and reviews, our Day 1 wrap is here, Day 2 is here, and Day 3 is here.
Hounds Of Love
Ben Young’s debut feature HOUNDS OF LOVE, about a couple that kidnaps and kills wayward teenagers together meet their match when one victim recognizes the fracture between them, is one of the greatest genre films I’ve seen this year. The film plays out like a relentlessly thrilling version of Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe, with the setpieces substituted for drama, depicting a very textbook situation of domestic abuse and gaslighting. The framing is gorgeous throughout coupled with some truly inspired music choices and there’s some magnificent acting by Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as the serial killer couple.
I think the meagre similarities it has with Don’t Breathe is the reason the producers haven’t been marketing it much, but it is an absolutely stellar thriller and Ben Young has announced himself as a talent for us genre fans to keep tabs on. Must watch.
I went into this Mexican film by Izaac Ezban completely blind, knowing nothing about it except for it being science fiction. A loving Twilight Zone, 70’s B Horror homage, the film plays it straight for the first forty or so minutes before a completely bonkers twist changes everything. This film has basically a single visual gag, probably conceived by the director while he was high, and milks it to death. But it mostly works every time they play it simply because of how absolutely bonkers it is. The script is absolutely wacko, but oh so clever. It has a beautiful internal logic that always makes sure you’re involved and always keeps you guessing. Highly recommended for scifi and horror geeks.
Twisted, trippy, hypnotic and an absolutely insane experience. “Heli” director, Amat Escalante backs a strong, suspenseful family drama with an alien invasion twist. A very smartly written story about a dysfunctional family and how they get further destroyed after a comet attack. Unlike his previous film, which was an extremely graphic representation of the Mexican drug war, here Escalante keeps his style very simple. The writing here is very strong and at no point do the visuals over power the story. With a basic approach like, lock-off frames, subtle and almost desaturated colours, minimal yet very ambient score Escalante manages to keep us on the edge throughout. A twist at every stage, constant change of dynamics between characters prepares you for the big reveal. A new kind of horror!
Barakah Meets Barakah
A rom-com from Saudi Arabia that may not be a new story for us but if one looks at it contextually, the filmmakers have pushed the envelope to make a statement about censorship and freedom of choice. For example, there are pixelation jokes which turns real when you realise a lot of it was not done for the film but that’s how advertising is over there and that’s a big part of the narrative. Director Mahmoud Sabbagh keeps the tone consistent which makes this film easy to watch. Right from the first slate, he is constantly making a statement but in a comedic way. “Barakah Meets Barakah” is a breezy, satirical rom-com that should be the last film you watch at MAMI to gear you up for “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”.
I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, 92 mins)
If you read more about Lee Morgan – a famous Jazz trumpeter who was shot dead by his wife when he was only 33 – you might get a completely different picture from what this documentary paints. Somewhat shaken by the film – which is a bit too long by at least 20 minutes – I delved a bit deeper into his life. One of the most popular long reads about the case is subtitled: “Lee Morgan’s young life was stopped short by a toxic romance with a woman who saved him, then shot him dead.” If, however, you watch this movie, you’ll come away with a conflicted, yet sympathetic view of Helen Morgan, Lee’s wife who shot him in a moment of madness on a harsh winter night in New York. (It was snowing so badly that the ambulance could get to him only after an hour.) If you love jazz, this film not only paints a fine picture of the life of young Lee Morgan — famous so quickly, and then gone so soon — but also of “Black classical music”. But most of all, this documentary works because it serves to re-steer the narrative in a kinder, more complex direction than that of the “bitch” who killed the most famous trumpeter of the century.
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, 125 mins)
Let me begin by saying that The Salesman has the most misleading IMDb summary ever. Second, the presence of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in the background is a mere contrivance that finds reflections in the lives of the protagonists. Ultimately, I found the movie to be about troubling and complex moral questions that have no clear answers: the ‘duty’ of a husband in ‘being a man’ and avenging an assault on his wife vs the wife’s agency in wishing to forget it or forgive the assaulter; the uncomfortable undertones that suggest the woman has fared worse than is being admitted; how to deal with an unlikely assaulter who seems to have little agency of his own. As in Farhadi movies, the woman is not a pawns or bystander, but a plot-mover. The movie somewhat falls prey to its director’s reputation — as well as to the presence of actors who have worked with Farhadi in the past. Unlike what you might hear from many fest-goers, it isn’t actually a bad film — or even a weak one. In fact, if you haven’t watched a Farhadi film before, or have watched only a couple of his best-known ones (I am one of those), this film manages to lend many moments of quiet musing.
Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a fucked up fantasy thriller of a raped women looking for revenge. Michèle is the CEO of a leading video game company, who is raped in her house by an unknown assailant, whom she tracks down and they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game. It is a courageous character study of a woman who refuses to be a victim. In our extremely misogynist society, a sexually assaulted woman is alienated; emotionally, mentally and physically. Verhoeven takes all such retrogressive ideas, puts them in a bag and throws them out of the viewer’s reach. He subverts stereotypical behaviour of a raped person and instead puts the women in command to avenge the attack against all manipulative forces. This is that rare progressive film where the character treats rape as an accident. No izzat, aabroo bullshit. Where have we seen a woman pleasuring herself a few days after being assaulted. Silently and with a lot of inner strength, Elle made me feel powerful.
Rape revenge comedy – the phrase may sound incongruous but in the hands of an able director, all things discordant find a coherence. This is the case with Paul Verhoeven’s new film, Elle. Bold and bizzare, the humour only elevates the film. Verhoeven delights in unsettling the audience. You will find yourself laughing throughout and then uncomfortably questioning your beliefs/assumptions about assault/rape victims amongst many others. Something as serious as the act of rape that we see at the onset slips into the background but we see its implications like that elephant in the room. The indestructible Michelle makes for a terrific character study – psychotherapists would have a field day deconstructing her. Isabelle Humpert delivers an electrifying performance. Not an easy watch, it is difficult to embrace its ironies. You might take a while to truly process if Elle is an empowering film. One line will stay with you for long, ‘Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all’.
The Unknown Girl
One word to sum this film up is “disappointing”. The Dardenne brothers are known for their dialogue heavy, slow moving character dramas that work so well because of the emotional tension flowing right from the start. The premise of this film is extremely intriguing and ripe with potential – a doctor goes around looking for the identity of a Jane Doe who died so that she can give her a burial and notify her family. Why was it disappointing? The extremely slow pace, the lack of tension. The intrigue was there, but the urgency, the sheer need that propels a character to do what she does, that barely came across. I found myself struggling to stay awake.
Hounds of Love
An Australian film about a serial killer couple whose MO was to pick up one girl at a time, a girl who’s walking alone in the streets, and then kidnap her, torture her and dump her body. The film does have predictable tropes, that of emotional abuse, that of a dominating man and a submissive woman. The plot is straightforward, and if you’ve seen enough films, you’ll see the ending coming. What you won’t see coming is the way the story is told, from its excellent framing to its brilliant use of slow motion, and most of all, its even more brilliant use of music in pivotal and spine chilling moments. Bolstered by brilliant performances all round, this film is an example of fine horror filmmaking.
Paul Verhoeven’s return to prime form, the less said about this film, the better. It is as mindfuck as mindfuck gets, with the main character herself voicing our thoughts, “This is twisted, isn’t it?”. Twisted doesn’t even begin to cover it. If I mention anything about the plot, it’ll just take the surprise away, because there are so many of those sprinkled throughout the film. Isabelle Huppert shines through and through as the titular character, and while this film deals with the topic of rape, I doubt whether any film has dealt with the topic the way this film has. This film spins a whole new definition of “twisted”, and it does so effortlessly. Fine filmmaking indeed.
Lost in Paris
A cute little slapstick, the kind that are rarely seen at festivals. Fiona travels from Canada to meet her aunt Martha in Paris but loses her luggage in a freak photography accident. How she finds (or doesn’t find) Martha, is the rest of the simplistic film about. Charlie Chaplinesque and vaudevillian, some of the gags are excellent and the overall good-natured love story is a heart candy.
Farhadi saab is back with another domestic thriller but this time the results are mostly middling. Or are we too used to his style by now and expect more surprises now? In any case, the depth of his last 4-5 films was missing from this one, in spite of his lead performers giving God-level output yet again.
Pablo Larrain is in the middle of a fucking wide purple-tinted patch of his artistic vision and NERUDA has the gene-code of all the daring such patches bring. Shot on digital (the only grouse), about a state cop chasing the ‘commie’ poet in Chile, the film evolves into a strange beast of its own – a mix of poetry, novel, memoir, and alternate history. The poet and his ideals stand in stark grey zone, while the half moron, half idiot cop becomes the idealistic centre of the story as it proceeds. Imagine Narcos minus drugs plus poetry, and written by Marquez. Absolute, emphatic win.
I Called Him Morgan
About the life and times of the Martin Luther King of hard bop- Lee Morgan, his relationship with his wife Helen and eventual death, this docu should’ve been a 20 min film, instead of the 90 min affair it was. There’s just not enough material. I’d rather this had been a doc about the Jazz music, or as they like to call it “Black classical music”, of the era.
This campy, laugh out loud funny, ajeeb sin city-esque horror sci fi is a great film, and you don’t need to know anything else about it. There’s one more show of the film on 5 day. Watch!
Hounds of Love
Nobody makes genre films and then puts a spin to it, like the Koreans and the Autralians. Ben Young’s Hounds of Love one such distressing drama that is brilliantly made. Subverting the usual nihilist tale, by focussing on domestic abuse in relationships and treating its characters, good or bad, with uncanny empathy is what makes Young’s film stand out. Brilliant cinematography and soundtrack, stunning film.
Mumblecore about two friends meeting each other after college — one went on to make films, other pursued his US dream. Plot points come in expository manner; they talk about things just for the sake of talking in a mumblecore film — not asking for profoundness but there’s nothing much to hold on. Few scenes are thought well (on paper) and the road trip takes you to quite serene locations but it is shot like a film school project. Low-budget issues, I know, but should that be the reason to give a leeway? Only if the film had scored in the content department… And, oh, there’s also a tribute to the legendary PFC blog.
Mockumentary involving a film crew following an aggressive and sadist Mumbai rickshawala. The politics of the film is quite debatable but the film is so self-aware. The filmmaker – subject interaction/intervention makes it walk the fact-fiction thread line, and the actors play along that line brilliantly. Solid, confident direction.
Barakah Meets Barakah
The opening slate of the film about the pixellation done in the film is the most hilarious joke in the film. Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry is a satirical take on the religious censorship in the country. The scenes where the protagonist compare the liberalism of the state over the years feel little forced in and borderline preachy. Also, looks like the film goes for an easy resolution with a slight contrivance. Still, likeable fun.