Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notes from IFFK - Part 3

Last set of films this year - first, Kiarostami's foray into the world of Japanese cinema - Like Someone in Love. You can take the man out of Iran, but you can't take him out of a car. Of the 109 minutes, as per my very unscientific count, more than 30 minutes was shot inside two cars. The film revolves around Akiko, a beautiful provincial girl at uni in Tokyo who does escort work on the side for extra cash. One night, her client turns out to be a shy, elderly academic (with a flat to kill for) who used to teach sociology and now, translates books. For a while, I thought this was going to be whore of Mensa but it didn't go there. Instead, a case of mistaken identity results with Akiko's boyfriend mistaking him for her grandfather and turns to him for advice. The end wasn't the most satisfying of endings but you don't go to see Kiarostami for the ending. The film has about a hundred or so K moments - the voicemails from Akiko's grandmother, the pointless call on translation that the academic takes when Akiko enters his flat, the whole neighborhood lady conversation - seriously, just go see it.

We will stay with Japan for one more film, Kurosawa's I Live in Fear. You didn't really think I was going to give the K retro a miss, did you? To be honest, however, I was bent on seeing The Hidden Fortress on the big screen (I admit it, I have not managed to see it on a real screen yet. BFI, do something about it!) but that did not work out, so I went and saw I Live in Fear instead. The film tracks the descent of an old man from paranoia (regarding nuclear war) to insanity, aided more than a little by those around him. This is not the most subtle of his films, but well, a young Mifune playing a cantankerous old man is so priceless that one could overlook subtlety and other such things.

Last of the lot - Pavlo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die. The film follows inmates of a high security prison as they rehearse and then stage Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Film festival junkies may remember this film from Berlin where it caused some controversy for being too traditional (it won the Golden Bear). It is traditional alright but watching this film, it is easy to see how one can get carried away. I mean, really, carried away. It has nothing to do with real-life prisoners enacting Julius Caesar. This is Julius Caesar, the way it is meant to be enacted, in a language that lends itself to it more so than the one we are used to.

So. That is it for me in films this year. I do have a bunch of scattered thoughts on the festival overall but too lazy now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Notes from IFFK - Part 2

First up, stylish gore from a master of yakuza films - Takeshi Kitano's Outrage Beyond. Technically a sequel but you don't miss much if you missed the first one. The Japanese police, or rather, one corrupt, slimy, anti-yakuza cop Kataoka, decides that the Sanno clan has become too powerful that it is time to start an inter-clan war and rack up the bodies. He resurrects a renegade yakuza Otamo (played by Kitano himself), among other things, to do exactly that. All very exciting if you are into that sort of thing. It got a bit tiring for me, to be honest.

Now for something a little closer to the heart - Ini, Avan (Him, Hereafter), a Tamil film by Sri Lankan director Ashok Handagama. I was expecting the late night show to be fairly empty but as it turned out, it was standing room only.  Shot entirely in Jaffna and environs, Ini, Avan tells the story of a young LTTE soldier who is sent back home two years after the war to start a new life. His village presumes him dead along with every other young man and woman who learnt to handle assault weapons a little too early in life. His return provokes fear, anger and indifference. He brings his now-widowed, upper caste, childhood sweetheart home and tries to find a job. The only one he finds is that of a security guard / driver for a smuggler who "believes" in the future. He takes it not knowing what he is getting into, and ends up regretting it. But life goes on.

Two things that struck me about the film which was very telling - one, despite the presence of a number of characters and entities who the ex-militant could hate with a vengeance, there is one who stands above all. No, not the smuggler. It is another of those who now believe in the future, the returnee, who in the militant's words "put the guns in our hands, and got visas stamped in your passports". Two, despite his past or maybe because of it, Avan is naive in so many ways that everyone else isn't, especially the women.

Oh well, go see it.

Then, this morning, Paul Cox's Innocence. Paul Cox is all over the news here - not only they are doing a showcase, he is also the Chaiman of the Jury. So I figured I will go see at least one of his films. Tender, uplifting, passionate love story of a couple in their late 60s with all the attendant side-effects. If people fall in love, it should be like this. Regardless of age, gender and other such nonsense. Reality will hit us all, at any age and it shouldn't be a consideration.
Wait, what am I saying? Don't fret, I will get over it but it is that kind of a movie :)

Onwards to Day 3/4.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Notes from IFFK - Day One

There is something very exciting about the prospect of seeing the best of world cinema for a sum of four hundred rupees. All the more exciting when the screenings happen at well, home. Of the 4 years or so I have been at this festival, this is probably the bonanza year in terms of the line-up. Maybe that's because I missed London in Oct where I would have usually seen a subset but well. A world cinema line-up that includes Michael Haneke, Abbas Kiaraostami, Ken Loach, Volker Scholondorff, Aki Kaurismaki; retros of Kurosawa,  Resnais and Hitchcock; recent films on adolescence and country focus on Vietnam - this is definitely the year. It is sad then I get to be here only for the first few days and makes this scheduling all the more maddening.

Day One has inadvertently been a French day for moi. Day started bright and early and I turned up at Sreekumar to see Calm at Sea only to discover that there was like one seat left. Scholondorff's latest, this is an World War II ensemble piece set in Vichy France based on the historical events at Choiseul POW camp where 27 prisoners were shot in retaliation for the shooting of a German officer in Nantes by the underground resistance. The film cuts between high command in Paris where an old world German General, faced with Hitler's orders, tries in vain to stop the madness, and the camp in Brittany where the lottery will seal the fate of the 27 prisoners. The prisoners chosen are mostly Communists and Jews, and includes a young man to be released that day and another who is just seventeen. The shooting is inevitable but throughout the film we are teased with a number of escape routes which close one by one. The film doesn't quite avoid the obvious sentimentalism inherent in films (yes, I mean mostly the American ones) of this kind but just when you think it is going to go overboard, it pulls you back. Totally worth seeing.

Lighter as the day goes by, next up was a French film by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki - Le Havre. Here is the deal - in the working class neighborhood of Le Havre full of dreary old characters where life is at its recessionary worst, a shoeshiner meets a young African boy who came in a container ship. He needs to get to London to meet his mother. The entire neighborhood, along with a little help from a Vietnamese shoeshiner, a has-been French rock n roll star and the local Inspector, conspire to get him to London. And everything is deadpan. Everyone. It looks dreary and depressing but it is a comedy that will have you chuckling throughout and wish you were having half the fun the people in the film seem to be having. Also, this is the most optimistic movie I will see this year.

To round off the day, we learn from the one and only Alain Resnais how musicals should be made - Same Old Song. Yes, Resnais. Yes, musical. How cool? I know! All characters - a control-freak business exec, her weak willed husband, her depressive sister, her smooth-talking real estate agent, her sister's secret admirer, her hypochondriac friend - break into popular songs in the middle of a conversation and then continue on as if nothing has happened. I was a bit skeptical of going to see this one as I wasn't sure whether the subtitles would make any sense given that these are French popular songs but they were actually wonderful and downright funny. And I have got one of them stuck in my head:

Resiste! Prove that you exist! Resiste! (Think it is this one)

Onwards to Day 2.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

IFFK 2012, well, 2011

They have finally put up the schedule for the festival beginning, like, today. Talk of last minute scheduling. Going mad trying to figure out my schedule for the next 4 days I am going to be around at the festival. Then I suddenly realised that I had almost forgotten what I had seen last year. After much searching hard drives and dropbox type places, found my notes. Shall put them up here so that I don't miss them again. I know. A year late. So what?

At New Theatre, half the ceiling fans did not work and I had to choose a seat rather strategically. At Kalabhavan, an overdose of extra-fragrant air freshener (or was it really Hit?) resulted in sneezing fits throughout the screening. At Sree Padmanabha, we were treated to flashing lights and graphics before each screening for no obvious reason. At Remya, the air conditioning worked so well that I was nearly frozen by the end of the film. Apparently the grand doyen of the Malayalam film world Adoor Gopalakrishnan made references to rodents at Kairali / Sree twin theatres recently – I must admit that I was fortunate enough not to encounter even a single one in my week of film viewing. At the end of the week though, I am not sure that the theatres matter. Yes, there is something to be said for festival films in old, musty theatres with uncomfortable seats - a sense that this is how it is meant to be and as much as we love to show these films in multiplex cinemas, they really belong here in the old world. But once 
the screening begins, they don’t really matter and the films talk for themselves.

I started the IFFK this year with Turkey – Semih Kaplanoglu’s Egg was playing in the Contemporary Masters in Cinema section. I sat next to a gentleman, a film journalist from Siliguri, who happened to be watching all of Kaplanoglu movies at the festival. He informed me that Egg is part of the Yusuf trilogy and chronologically the last one in the series. The film revolves around a poet Yusuf who owns a second hand bookstore in Istanbul. He returns to his hometown after his mother’s death to find a girl, a distant cousin, living in his mother’s house. Their relationship unfolds in slow motion among old friends and ghosts, and on a trip to the mountains to sacrifice a lamb to satisfy his late mother’s dying wish.

I followed Egg with two films from the archives – Robert Bresson’s Mouchette and Nagisa Oshima’s Street of Love and Hope. Mouchette, shot in typical Bresson style with non-professional actors, tells the depressing (it is Bresson, after all!) story of a village girl with a dying mother, an alcoholic father, and a host of supporting characters bent on destroying what is left of the girl’s sorry life. Street of Love and Hope is the story of poor Masao who sells the same pigeons multiple times to feed his family not realising that this minor but understandable breach of integrity could have major repercussions. This film is very much a class struggle which explores the differences in perspectives between a poor boy in the slums of post-war Tokyo, a middle class school teacher, and a brother-sister pair from the ruling classes. I went to this movie in an attempt to see Japanese cinema beyond the Mizoguchi-Ozu-Kurosawa trinity - Street of Love and Hope was a brilliant introduction but it is still rooted in the same social sensibilities of the trinity as this is one of Oshima’s earlier works and he had not yet broken out of the mould. But no complaints, I really liked the film.

After the two retrospectives, I decided to see at least one in the Competition section. I drew lots and went to see Delhi in a Day by first-time director Prashanth Nair. It is set, needless to say, in an affluent Delhi household where a British house guest’s cash is stolen and the domestic help gets blamed. The film is intended to be a sarcastic take on the how we live and how we treat our domestic help. While there are some refreshing elements and nice visual takes, it doesn’t quite pass the exocticism / stereotypes test that seem to haunt cinemas in this genre.

On my Day 3, I spent some time at Trigger Pitch, a laudable effort by the Indian Documentary Foundation (IDF) and the IFFK to bring documentaries into the limelight and to provide a forum for wider distribution. Six documentaries were pitched as part of this session dealing with a variety of topics such as the endosulfan tragedy, waste management in Beijing, rat killers of Mumbai, and tracking down the origins of a popular Bengali folk song. It was exciting to see documentaries getting more shelf space in a clearly feature focused world and hopefully more of us will get to see at least some of the films in a theatre near us soon.

Next on my list was from Iran - Mohammed Rasoulof’s Goodbye. As almost everyone with an interest in cinema is aware by now, both Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi are currently under arrest in Iran for the crime of making films. I watched Panahi’s This is Not a Film at the London film festival in October but I had missed Goodbye then, so here was my chance to see this film. Goodbye tells the story of a young human rights lawyer trying to leave the country for a better life. Pregnant with a baby diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, she goes through life with a deathly calm, firm in her belief that she will be able to leave Iran. The atmosphere is sinister and all-consuming as she takes one step forward, two steps backward throughout the movie and it is clear from the outset that this is a losing battle. It cannot end any other way. Rasoulof is still in jail.

From Iran to Germany to watch Wim Wenders’s wonderful 3D dance drama Pina based on the dance of the incomparable Pina Bausch. There was a minor problem – we weren’t able to see the movie in 3D thus somewhat defeating the purpose of the movie in bridging the gap between the film and the live performance. Though would say I would not have missed Pina for anything unless well, if it was the 3D version of Pina

Turkey has been a recurring theme for me this year, both in films and in travel and it was only appropriate that I end the film festival with a Nuri Bilge Ceylan flick – Once upon a time in Anatolia. The tickets to this film were sold out before they opened public booking at the London film festival, and I went early to the theatre to make sure that I can catch this for sure in Trivandrum. It proved to be a good decision as the movie hall was full and latecomers ended up sitting on the steps. Based on a true story, the film begins with a group of men setting out at sunset to find a dead body somewhere in the Anatolian outback – the group includes police officers, an army sergeant, the district prosecutor, a doctor and two suspects. The movie unfolds slowly throughout the course of the night as the search drags on and we learn more about the motivations and frustrations of the main protagonists. Brilliant acting, stunning camerawork often under sparse lighting, and an insightful look into provincial life and human interactions. For once, I don't have to cringe when reviewers use that word that they love so much – Chekhovian. There is an early morning scene in the film where the prosecutor is dictating notes for his assistant to type up, and he describes the victim on the ground as a Clark Gable look-alike. He continues for a few more seconds before stopping to check what was typed, and his assistant tells him that he (the prosecutor) is the one who looks like Clark Gable. A scene and a film not to be missed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Copper Edition aka The Seven Year Itch

"So you are trying to find a job?"





"I don't know"

"You must have something in mind"

"A bunch of places"

"Like where?"

"Could be here. Could be Scotland. Zurich. States. Scandinavia"

"You are trying to find a job in all these places?"

"In any of these places"

"Will they give you one?"

"Who knows? I can just stay where I am if that is what you want"

"Where in Scandinavia?"

"Its not that big a place"

"Are you going to Norway?"


"Then I will move with you"



"I was actually thinking maybe not with all this child services stuff"

"It isn't better in Bamse land"


"So I am thinking we make the most of it"

"Get monkey to grow up in foster care?"

"We will make it come back to its grandparents here before action starts"

"Oh like that. Then it will be entertaining with just us and courts and everything. But we have to plan properly"

"Of course. I think there is 1 nos bestseller book and 1 nos blockbuster film to be made in this racket"

"Don't be silly. We will do nothing of the sort"

"Then what's the point?"

"I was thinking we can write a 21st century version of you know...."

"No, I don't know"

"The Trial"



"What use would that be?"

"Why should anything ever be useful?"

"Useful pays the bills"

"How did you become so boring?"

"Years of being the only useful person in this family does that to you"

"Better you than me, I suppose"

"As always, darling"