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.

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