Posts Tagged ‘’71’

We are still nursing a hangover of MFF 2014, more so now after this week’s Bollywood release.  Hence this post.

Kushal Chowdhary is a Bengali. Brought up in Gujarat. Lives and works in Bombay and dreams of no work and Tuscany. Hobbies are reading, movies and cricket. Like everybody else in India. He has written a series of travelogues on Istanbul, Mognolia, Tuscany, Siberia for rediff.

Over to @kushalchowdhury –

The Mumbai film festival ended this week, and with it seven days of waiting in queues and overhearing amusing conversations and watching plants grow.

Kissanpur

There’s already plenty that’s been written about most of the films here and elsewhere. I doubt if I have anything significant to add. But here’re my thoughts on 7 of them anyway.

1. Barf (Iran; Dir: Mehdi Rahmani)

A young man in the army returns home for a break and finds his one-wealthy family fallen on hard times. Over the course of the film, we meet the various members and gradually learn of their problems and motivations in details and the undercurrents that run in the family. Hardly a novel setup.

For me, there are two aspects of the film that separate it from the dozens of other dysfunctional family films I’ve seen. One, that it knows that the wealthy can’t ever truly become poor. They may know they are no longer wealthy and that they must adapt themselves to a different lifestyle; they can even be successful in doing so in all the obvious ways, but there’re always little things that they cannot let go of. Clean curtains. A bit of make-up (even some helpful surgery). A sudden craving for pizza.

As a Bong, I’ve seen my share of families like that and throughout the film I spotted little things that brought back many memories.

The second aspect where Barf differs from most other films is that it is able to dig a little deeper into its characters’ motivations than that they are basically decent human beings who are trying to do the best they can for the family, under the circumstances. Almost every good film gets that right. But Barf also shows you that human beings (with their inherent sense of self-righteousness) also believe (are convinced, in fact) they are doing the best they can for the family, while nobody else is bothered. Everyone is unaware they may in fact be more selfish than they themselves think.

That aspect is probably clearest in the case of the sister (believes that getting married to a man she hasn’t yet met is an enormous sacrifice she is making for her family but doesn’t realise how much trouble she has caused by walking out of an otherwise stable first marriage only because she was bored) but is present in every other character too.

Incidentally, it appears Barf does not have an IMDb listing yet. I tried creating one and found out first-hand how complicated it is to do so.

Godard

2. Goodbye to Language (France; Dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

I have long since stopped trying to make too much sense of a Godard film. I doubt if Godard could do so himself. Instead, I find pleasure in the visuals (and the use of 3D in this film is far, far, out), the abundant references to other art, and the fleeting moments when something makes sense to me. I think it also helps if, like Godard, one has pondered over everything under the sun and has an opinion on each. That way, it is more likely that something or the other will make sense or even when it does not it will start you off on a train of thought that could be more rewarding than what the film itself has to say.

The sight of a dog being carried away (quite happily, judging by the expression on its face) by a strong river current has stayed with me. As have the sounds of farts. And several other images which I am not even sure were actually present in the film.

Why was a child allowed at the screening? Are children also offered passes for MAMI?

3. Corn Island (Georgia; Dir: George Ovashvili)

I am generally partial towards films such as this, and I admit I may be praising it more than it deserves. It certainly isn’t as good as Sweetgrass or Le Quattro Volte or even Rivers & Tides (which isn’t really the same type of film but comes together with the rest in the DVD box set in my head). But like those other films, it too approaches questions of existence and meaning by focussing on simple unadorned lives and stories.

An unusual natural phenomenon creates temporary islands in the middle of a river every year. At the same time, the river swells so much its banks become uninhabitable. And so, each year, men set out into the river looking for a temporary island and whoever finds one first owns it for the duration of its existence. He brings his family, builds a house and grows corn on it. And then, when the rains come, the island is washed away and everybody heads back to the banks.

Corn Island focuses on one such man, his grand-daughter and one such cycle. Nobody speaks much and there is no need to. Because the film is set in Georgia and Russia is right around the corner, there are also soldiers on patrol. And occasional gunshots. Some of that, in my view, diverts too much attention from the central themes of the film (or what I think should be the central themes).

There is one sequence in the second act that is oddly out of sync with the rest of the film. A couple of characters behave in a way that isn’t organic to their nature. And the final act probably gets too literal with the film’s metaphor. There was no need to shoe-horn such obvious tragedy into a film that really should be more evolved than that.

Still the water

4. Still The Water (Japan; Dir: Naomi Kawase)

A film full of poetry. Observes the lives of people on a Japanese island and tries to find meaning in the mundane.  Succeeds most of the time. Of all the different segments, the one that transcends the rest of the film is that which observes a family – father, mother and daughter. The mother is in her thirties (or perhaps early 40s) but is ailing and does not have long to live. The family knows it and they spend their last days together in corners of their house that they have come to love and their conversations are filled with humour, affection, melancholy and acceptance. The Japanese culture has a rare grace and wisdom in how it deals with and embraces the subject of death (Ebert writes about it here with more elegance than I ever can) and no matter how many films I see and books I read from that country, it never ceases to fill me with wonder.

The opening scene is that of an old man hanging a goat by its legs and making a cut at the neck from where the blood slowly drains out. The goat bleats for a while and the man stands by it, patting it affectionately until it stops, and perhaps contemplates his own mortality. Cruelty and compassion co-exist in the same act.

The scene has little to do with the rest of the film but then, that’s the kind of film this is.

5. Two Days, One Night (France; Dir: The Dardenne Brothers)

I am not quite sure if the central premise of the film is realistic – a small business owner offers his employees the choice between their losing their annual bonus (1000 Euros) and losing a co-worker (Marion Cotillard). The recession has not been kind to the operation and it is impossible for the owner to arrange funds for both. Most people (14 out of 16) choose to take the bonus (and therefore leave Cotillard out in the cold) the first time they vote but Cotillard convinces the owner to organize another vote two days later and then sets out to meet all 16 co-workers over the course of a weekend.

I don’t know if any owner would actually come up with a choice like that (very unlikely I believe) but as far as setting up a film to explore the clash between the morality of doing the right thing for another person and the need to do the right thing for yourself, it is a brilliant setup.

Unsurprisingly, once you buy into that premise, it is a great film.

Two Days, One Night

I was also keen to see (like most people, I suppose) why the Dardennes, having built a career out of casting unknown faces, felt the need to have Marion Cotillard for this film. The reason’s evident, once you watch the film. Her performance and interpretation of the character is central to the film’s success. It is the sort of character that, on the basis of merely what must’ve been in the script, could easily be played with unimaginative straightforwardness.  And that’d have made the film many degrees poorer.

6. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel; Dir: Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz)

Fascinating film, without doubt. And in many ways an excellent indictment of the Judiciary. But I also wonder, what exactly is the alternative? Yes, the first few times when the husband refuses to turn up in court, it is a clear case of the law needing to be revisited. But, once he does start appearing, this is what the scenario looks like – Both are present – neither is willing to accuse the other of anything that resembles grounds for divorce – the husband is unwilling to agree to the divorce – the wife wants it because they aren’t compatible as a couple. How do you frame a law to handle that?

The more I think of the film, the more it seems to me like it should actually be about the absurdity of expecting the Judiciary to sensibly handle a case like this rather than being an indictment of the Judiciary.

'71 film still

7. ’71 (England; Dir: Yann Demange)

Somebody please explain to me the layout of the building that is the venue of the central sequence in the film. How many floors? How many wings? The crack in the wall was where? Where did it lead to? How were the hunters spread out? How could nobody see the prey walking out in the open for an entire wing? For the centrepiece action scene in an action film, isn’t this stuff important?

Great sequence leading up to and right after the blast at the bar, though.

I liked several other films too, this year (in fact, hardly disliked any, except Lessons in Dissent) – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Clouds of Sils Maria, Charlie’s Country (the actor had me at Hello). But 7 is already too many.

So we read this piece on Quartz India – “A Bollywood-backed Twitter campaign saved the Mumbai Film Festival—but crushed its spirit”. Friends told us it’s a well respected website. Yet to figure out why. (Not that we trust Columbia Journalism grads on desi film industry, most of the times they have no clue about bollywood or indie-bhindies) As we were joking about it, we thought let’s not respond to it till the closing ceremony. Aamir, Madhuri, Anushka, Parineeti, Esha…OMG! So many stars at MAMI! We have never seen them before at Mumbai Film Festival. They killed the indie spirit and how. Look at the winners. Bollywood must not have heard about these filmmakers and they crushed them by giving them awards – Avinash Arun (Killa), Bikash Mishra (Chauranga) and Chaitanya Tamhane (Court). And these 3 films bagged top 6 awards in International Competition and India Gold section. Interestingly, all three are based in Mumbai. City’s fest, city’s filmmakers, what an achievement! MAMI never had a better year than this. If only some people knew what they are writing about.

Moving on, here’s our day wrap of last 2 days

’71

A Soldier is abandoned accidentally by his unit in the middle of a riot in Belfast. I must confess I was at loss quite a few times thanks to the heavy North Irish accent, but this edge of the seat thriller-drama has enough moments to keep you hooked on. The riot sequence and the chase alone itself is worth the watch. Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Look and feel – all top notch in this gritty film. One can feel the pain of the wound being stitched, the weight of the stone being thrown and the deafening screech after an unexpected bomb blast. Watch it.

Court

This film deserves every accolade it has got abroad. Minimal with pitch perfect detailing, long takes & wide shots, performances that seem natural and unrehearsed, a dab of social & political commentary every now and then, and a realistic depiction of a Kafkaesque trial – it at times ceases to be a film and seems like life unfolding in front of your eyes. Easily one of the top films at MFF this year. Do not miss this for anything.

@nagrathnam

Theeb

This is as unpretentious and straightforward a film can be. And that’s where lies its joy. A young Jordanian boy is left alone to fend for himself in bandit territory with the bandit that killed his brother. The bandit becomes his protector and the boy needs him to reach safety. Its not the barren terrain alone, a terrain from whose womb few films emerge but an entire world that opens up to us simply by the choices the characters make in this film. If you like films as an observer and seeker of experience, then this is well worth it.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Literary world threatens to envelope the real and the real world reflects the literary one, shadowing each other as the film explores the nature of time and age. Oblique with a lot of subtext, Clouds of Sils Maria is a meta referential guide to an aging actor’s work and life experience as we explore her inner world and art through her explorations of the character she is playing. Absorbing and visually beautiful, the end is mystifying but Juliette Binoche’s glorious performance makes it more than worth the watch even as a the point in its entirety maybe subject to subjective audience interpretation or simply lost. Almost meta referential of tha film again!

Mission Rape – A Tool Of War (Documentary)

Disturbing even at its short length of an hour. The documentary talks about the mass rapes that were used to perpetrate horror in Bosnia-Herzegovinian conflict during the early nineties. Victims and their families fighting for justice speak their stories and how justice has been denied to them. A stark image of the hegemony of patriarchy and the politics of war stares in front of us as we despair at the continuing inhumanity of the world. There is no attempt to dramatise events or manipulate the audience, facts are laid out bare and footage used matter-of-factly. Its short and not as incisive or comprehensive as it could be, but its honest and dignified, and therein lies its worth.

Girlhood

 Is it me or was there a major number of women-centric films this year at MAMI?In any case, its a cause for celebration and I did with Girlhood. In fact, what better film than that! Its a journey of an African teenage girl, bred and brought up in a steeply patriarchal culture finding her independence. Not only the thrift of storytelling and the simplicity of narration but the wealth of detailing makes this not only an important coming-of-age film, but a feminist film. Blue as the primary colour in the scheme, girls finding their freedom in acting like boys, the need for male approval, the male gaze and so on and on, the script explores each one of these very important aspects of influence in the shaping of a girl into a woman. A must watch!

Coffee Bloom

An interesting film about coming to terms with the past…Set in lush Coorg that is filmed with a lot of love, it is a the story of Dev, a troubled young man who is trying hard to gather his life torn apart by loss of his childhood home and his love. Love, loss, betrayal with spirituality on the fringes are some of the themes that inform the plot-driven narrative with able support from the lead actors. The screenplay is tight and engaging, the unfolding or rather undoing of the characters and their coming together quite convincing. A minor grouse, however, were the dialogues or maybe it was the way some of them were delivered, that sounded quite banal. An assured debut.

Demons

An adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel by the same name, it is an ambitious film that tries hard to embody all of Dostoevsky’s ideas questioning nihilism, utopianism, spirituality and the human condition. Unfortunately, it fails to portray the complexity of these ideas, leave alone present a picture of 19th century Russia in all its multifarious-ness. The narrative is non-linear, something that adds a complex physicality to the film but does not supply the necessary depth or breadth, leave alone create any darkness in mood. Demons is supposed to be an intense literary work, both exploring the interiority of its characters as possessed by an inexplicable evil that is part of human belief system as well as the social conditions of Russia and its politics of the time. The film, despite its three hour long running time does little justice to the dark world of Dostoevsky or the zeitgeist of Russia, confusing hyperventilating for intensity and substituting CG work for surrealism.

–  @Fatema

The Tree (Drevo)

In the 15th century, a deadly tradition began in the Balkans, which were then under Turkish rule. Krvna Osveta is still practiced in Albania today. But that is not the story of The Tree, though it does flutter in the backdrop. Instead, in three sections, we see captivity (or, as the director prefers to say, “entrapment”) of three kinds. The story is also about power; about struggling against power; about the various shades of power — personal, political, emotional and familial. Intimately shot and powerfully acted against a spare landscape in three main colours, this film will enter your mind and haunt you endlessly.

Slovenia makes only five to ten films a year — and the director, Sonja Prosenc, who graced the screening, informed us that two of the three remarkable leads were amateurs. In such a spare landscape, it is even more remarkable when a director makes such a stunning debut.

The Big Journey

Perhaps the best movies about journeys are those that are not about the journey at all. A devout, French Muslim coaxes his reluctant son to drive him all the way to Mecca — a taxing route spanning 3000 miles. But there are no sights on the way, even though the son would like to stop for some of them. Instead, we enter the minds of the protagonists and travel through their maze of differences — due to a significant distance in their ages; due to their belonging to different times; due to their having different beliefs about religion, and right and wrong.

Their clashes are the age-old clashes of the conservative and the modern; the devout and the casual believer; the old and the young. There are some regular road movie tropes thrown in — such as trouble at customs; thieves and strange companions on the journey. But there is also some great detailing — especially in the last part where we meet travelling Arabs going to Mecca, replete with their customs, their prayers, their caravans.

As the father and son travel farther away from home, The Big Journey becomes all about bridging the distance between two minds and hearts.

Theeb

Are we a product of our environment? Or do we shape it? Theeb suggests the former. After all, who can shape the mighty desert? In Arabia in 1916, we see the cruel, unforgiving, death-giving desert produce children who see, and accept, cruelty as a routine ingredient of their lives. Of course, accepting cruelty with such equanimity requires fearlessness as well. And we see all of this in both Theebs — the protagonist, and the movie.

Mesmerisingly shot entirely on location against the ravishing landscape of Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba, and cast with non-professional actors from one of the last of Jordan’s nomadic Bedouin tribes to settle down, Theeb is often disturbing — for its hyper-realistic depiction of life in the desert, the desperation it induces, and the everyday violence accepted by the tribes. Often the movie crawls, just like the days in the desert, and it becomes difficult to watch on. But life is never easy; why should such a marvellous movie be?

@Shubhodeep

Court

Extremely real situations (too close to reality for people who keep tabs on what’s happening), real people and performances. In fact, a lot of people in the cast are not professional actors but they seem natural in front of the camera. Film unfolds mostly in a courtroom where a man (a Shahir) stands accused of abetting suicide of another man. Clearly it’s just an excuse by the state to put him behind bars. While the starting point of the film seem to be inspired from real events, it aims to take a broader view of the society and its functioning as well as its relationship with the state and its institutions by going into the lives of each of the main players.

@neeraja

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed by this, given the hype. Powered by a cool ‘vampire-in-a-veil’ conceit and hip soundtrack, it’s fun but doesn’t do anything very interesting thematically or in terms of storytelling, especially given the vast potential of its premise. Instead, it feels disappointingly content in just being an exercise in posturing and Sin-City style B&W visuals instead of being genuinely groundbreaking or revelatory. (Perhaps Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist set the bar way too high a couple of years back.)

Clouds Of Sils Maria

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart play off each other brilliantly in Clouds Of Sils Maria, Oliver Assayas’ sharp, brutally funny and super-meta movie with a heart of melancholy. The compelling dynamic and amazing chemistry between the actresses alone makes this a must-watch, even as all the nudging and winking occasionally gets a tad overbearing. The film is too diffuse to be devastating (or a modern companion-classic to Sunset Boulevard) but Clouds of Sils Maria is always compelling, and when Binoche bares her soul with such blazing poise and elegance, it’s hard not to be floored.

jahanbakshi