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.