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Over the weekend and into the new @ the Mumbai Film Festival

The 11th Mumbai Film Festival
by Abhishek Bandekar

Over the past weekend, the Mumbai Film Festival continued with its unexpected surprises. When the reel for Alejandro Almendras’s Huacho turned up damaged, people went to see Maciej Pieprzyca’s Polish film Drzazgi (Splinters) instead. Influenced by Inarritu’s non-linear narrative structure, but without his butterfly-effect, Drzazgi, a sieving of three individuals in spectrally different walks of life, is a film with sure grip.

Sebastian Silva’s La Nana (The Maid), an exceptional exploration of a maid’s behaviour who refuses to let a new maid enter the home of the family she’s served for over two decades was at times funny, at times poignant. The film is unlike any, if only for its unique subject matter.

With O Melissokomos (The Beekeeper), arrived the master. Theo Angelopoulos’s 1986 film still serves as a melancholic chronicle of isolation and desolation. In Marcello Mastrioanni’s hauntingly powerful performance, the film approaches with great sensitivity the incestuous subtext in its lead player’s relationship with a young girl.

Ole Bornedal’s Fri Os Fra Det Onde (Deliver Us From Evil), a strange action-thriller that has obvious political undertones left the audiences divided. Some felt it used action-film tropes (a family gets trapped in a house, surrounded on all sides by bloodthirsty villains) to great effect, while others felt that the film was too hyperbolic to take its argument on Danish provincialism seriously.

Most films seemed to belong to the ‘not-so-bad…not-too-great’ category. Jean Christophe Klotz’s Black Out, Federico Godfrid & Juan Sasiain’s La Tigre Chaco and Frederic Mermoud’s Partners all left the audiences indifferent or ambivalent.

Andreas Dresen’s Whiskey With Vodka and Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes generated actual opinion. The former, about a renowned actor with a drinking problem who knows more about filmmaking than his director and the comic situations that arise when a local actor becomes his understudy, received thunderous applause. The latter though, about a multiple-sclerosis patient who experiences a miracle on her pilgrimage to Lourdes bored with its agonizingly slow pace, dull filmmaking and lofty moralistic ideals.

Monday began with what is surely the worst film of the festival. Simon Ennis’s You Might As Well Live, a comedy about a simpleton who’s mistaken to be a paedophile uses all the gross elements of American teenage laugh-fests…only this one is unfunny. To show a man literally take a dump is not funny. One wonders why this film came with such praise from Slamdance…it makes Adam Sandler comedies look like Monty Python classics.

Thankfully, the proceedings got better. Souad El Bohati’s Francaise, a film about a young Moroccan girl who rebels against her family to go back to France- the country where she spent her childhood and considers her true motherland -is a fine example of filmmaking which believes in simple stories being simply told.

If Francaise is about a girl who isn’t French but considers herself one, then Yang Yang (Yu Chieh Cheng) is about an Eurasian girl who can’t quite get the Taiwanese society around her let her forget that she’s half-French, persistently questioning her inability to speak the language and consequently her identity. Easily one of the best films of the festival, Sandrine Pinna, in the titular role, as a girl wanting to find and assert her identity gives what is, in my opinion, the finest female performance of the festival as well.

On the home front, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s Konkani language film Paltadacho Munis (The Man Beyond The Bridge) that had won honours at the Toronto Film Festival was screened.

Shetgaonkar’s film competes with Mahmut Fazil Coskun’s Turkish Uzak Ihtimal (Wrong Rosary), the Danish film Applaus (dir- Martin Zandvliet) and the German, The Day Will Come (dir- Susanne Schneider). Applaus, about an acclaimed actress’s struggle to reclaim her life after coming out of rehab, garnered praise and became the first film of the festival to have been demanded an encore by the audience.

The day wrapped up with two biggies- Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience and Lars Von Trier’s highly controversial Antichrist. Soderbergh’s film, about an escort and her relationship with her clients, is his return to smaller independent films- an area he is definitely more comfortable in. Von Trier’s film, dubbed as ‘torture-porn’ by the Western critics, didn’t disturb so much with its explicit imagery (female genitals being mutilated, etc.) as much as it did with its undeniable misogynistic argument. The film uses the Christian text of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden and uses it flagrantly to peddle Von Trier’s own misogynist beliefs by way of a couple in mourning of their infant child’s death. Truly disturbing indeed!

On Tuesday, nearly all filmmakers whose films were being screened curiously turned up in person. This created quite an euphoria among cinephiles who were ecstatic that they’d get a chance to interact with these makers.

Shahram Alidi, Kurdish director of Sirta La Gal Ba (Whisper With The Wind), presented his film, sitting among the audience. Before the film began, he recounted how it took him nearly five years to make the film, and how he had to shoot it in Iraq because it was difficult shooting in Iran. It must be mentioned here that Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi who was supposed to be a jury member at this festival wasn’t allowed to attend despite the organizers’ desperate attempts at convincing the Iranian authorities. It was perhaps fitting that the overwhelmingly evocative film about an old postman who delivers recorded voice-messages from village to village was ultimately about the voices (whispers) of protest…heard or unheard.

One wonders if the cancellation of the Tibetan documentary Tibet In Song had to do something with the developing political situation between India and China. Probably not, as the relations between India and Pakistan didn’t stop Nasir Khan’s documentary Made In Pakistan from being screened. Nasir Khan too was present at the screening, at the end of which he graciously fielded questions from an audience who had clearly loved this documentary about four Pakistani youths from different walks of life who all hope for a better Pakistan and work at it in their own little ways, dispelling certain notions that we may have about Pakistan in the process. Form-fitting jeans are just as much a need for the Pakistani youth as it is for teenagers in any other country of the world!

Umesh Kulkarni presented his Marathi film for AB Corp., Vihir (The Well) to an audience that included quite a few industry players. The director duo of Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar also had their Ek Cup Chya (One Cup Tea) screened immediately after. Earlier in the festival, Sachin Kundalkar’s Gandha (The Smell) and Renuka Shahane’s Rita were among the other Marathi language films showcased.

Jeff Hare turned up with leading actress to present his film Bitter/Sweet. Although the screening had a very big turnout, it was a disappointingly predictable Bollywood romantic flick in Hollywood clothes with the worst clichés and the cheesiest of lines! Sarba Das’s Karma Calling and Manoel De Oliveira’s Eccentricities Of A Blond Hair Girl drew none too positive responses either.

The Asian films Rail Truck (Japan) and Treeless Mountain (South Korea) were the comparatively better films of the day. The former by Hirofumi Kawaguchi is a tale about a family that reunites its bonds; stressing on the ethnocentricity of Japan. The latter, by So Yong Kim, has a similar vein. In it, two little girls learn to be there for each other when their mother drops them at their aunt’s and later grandparents’ place.

Watch this space tomorrow for the report on the final two days of the festival and a list of the winners.

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originally posted: 11/07/09 02:19:39
last updated: 11/07/09 19:52:20
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