Monday, December 09, 2013

IFFK 2013 – Day 4

Errata, the first film I watched today in IFFK 2013, is a highly stylized non-linear thriller. The second film, When evening falls in Bucharest or metabolism, is basically a dialogue about the nuances of filmmaking. And then I saw a 1953 Jean Renoir film, French Cancan.


The film, directed by Iván Vescovo, is not your typical thriller. It starts with the hero, Ulises, finding one fine morning that his girlfriend Alma has vanished. His search for her leads to her sister and then to a bookstore which houses a rare original copy of a famous book written by Jorge Luis Borges. The book is highly sought after because it contains errata – a passage written by somebody else, not by Borges. During the search, he learns more about the book and about Alma. He meets her sister and soon he gets a phone call demanding ransom to release Alma. How does he find money to release his lover? Well, in case you have not guessed, by stealing the errata book.

The director adopts a zig-zag narration. While it is fast-paced and stylishly shot, it is kind of a random access movie. Time moves forth and back. Memories appear suddenly and realizations dawn belatedly. And there is a dream sequence within a dream, like the Borges stories. The film itself transforms into a kind of errata.

When evening falls in Bucharest or metabolism

Corneliu Porumboiu – of Police, Adjective fame – deals with nuances of film making. In that sense, this is a movie for moviemakers. The movie deals with many things, including the meaning of on-screen behavior and director’s and artist’s struggle to come up with the best scenes. Dialogues on these subjects between a director and his lead actress form the bulk of the movie. It is more like reading the transcript of a dialogue than a movie with twists and turns.

French Cancan

When it was released in 1953, Godard described the movie thus: “Every scene is a cartoon in movement”. It was one of the popular color movies of that generation. Unfortunately, it has not passed the biggest test of any art – test of time. Suffice to say that this is not the best of Renoir movies.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

IFFK 2013 – Day 3

It turned out to be a Super Sunday, to borrow a quote from the football telecast. I had planned to watch some other movies. But I ended up watching Rocket, Jonathas’ Forest and Berlin -07. No complaints, though. Each of these films was dissimilar from the others in terms of treatment and theme. Yet, all these had one common factor: they were the results of high-quality film-making.


What is written in Rotten Tomatoes about Rocket is true: If this movie does not move your heart, you’re not human. This is an ebulliently charming movie that tells the story of a young boy named Ahlo. He was a twin who supposedly brings bad luck to the others near him, as per the village belief. As if to validate the village myth, his moth dies in an accident, and he becomes cause of many other accidents. He is an energetic and tireless boy bubbling with ideas and drive.

The story starts when his family was forced to abandon their house and fields and relocate to another village, because of the construction of a new dam. In the new location, which is more like a refugee camp than a promised land, our hero finds enough space to cause all kinds of mischief in the company of a girl called Kia. When his mischief crosses the line, they were ousted from the camp. They ended up in a village which has an abundance of abandoned bombs and missiles. They reach there just in time for a Rocket festival, which the village authorities conduct to bring rain. The effervescent – decides to participate in the dangerous contest.

The summing up of the story cannot convey the magic on the screen. There is never a dull moment in the movie, yet it portrays the agony and helplessness of the ordinary folks in a telling way. The director has managed to find the celluloid alchemy for blending satire, fun and sentiments in right proportion. All the actors have given sensational performance too.

Jonathas’ Forest

This is an art house drama about the Amazon forests as well as about a young boy living nearby. He lives with his agricultural family and sells the farm proceeds to tourists. One day he goes to an impromptu camp along his brother and a beautiful Ukraine-born American tourist. He promises to bring her wild passion fruit and goes into the forest in search of the fruit. And he loses the way and gets sucked into the dense forests of Amazon.

Berlin -07

The film narrates the story of two Iraqi families who try to migrate to Germany illegally, just as the American occupation begins in Iraq. They managed to reach Berlin clandestinely. But they face all kinds of troubles in a foreign country for obtaining residence permit and citizenship. The film powerfully captures the agony and helplessness of ordinary people caught in the mire of global politics.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

IFFK 2013 Day 2

Saw four films today in the IFFK 2013: No Fear, No Die (a French film directed by Claire Denis), The Missing Picture (a Cambodian film, directed by Rithy Panh), An Actor's Revenge (in the Samurai films category) and The battle of Tabato (a Competition Section film). Except for the Samurai film, all the films were of highest standard. The day was marked by unruly and sub-standard crowd behavior inside the cinema halls, even when the movies were going on.  

No Fear, No Die narrated the tale of two black emigrants in France who engage in the unlawful sport of cockfighting. The Missing Picture is an innovative docu-film about the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. It’s part history, part autobiography and full of innovation. The director uses archival footages shot by the propaganda arm of the government and depicts what is missing in those official archival visuals – hence the title The missing picture. What provides a stunning effect to the missing visuals is the use of tiny clay figures to represent humans. It symbolizes the fact that under the Pol Pot regime humans were mere objects.

The battle of Tabato is another innovative film that offers the African people’s counter narration to the popular perception about the continent. The film, shot entirely in black and white, declares its own battle against the wars in many African countries: “The huge magic is peace”. It narrates the tale of an old African man who returns to his native country after spending many years in Europe. He seems to have been possessed by a spirit, perhaps a creation of his own guilty feeling about betraying his countrymen and his helplessness in preventing the bloodshed in his country.

Friday, December 06, 2013

IFFK 2013. Day 1

I started IFFK 2013 with a splendidly crafted Kazakhstan movie called Harmony Lessons, the debut feature of Emir Baigazin. The film is set in a rural Khasakh school. It tells the story of the whole mankind and our current society through Aslam, a mild-mannered and brilliant boy with few words.  He is the only boy who is out of the controlling domain of the school bully, Bolat. There are other protagonists as well, like Mirsain, who is newly arrived on the school from a city, and Akzhan, who unlike other girls in the class insists on wearing a headscarf as she believes it protects her God-given beauty from boys’ gaze.

Aslam has a scientific bent of mind and a concrete belief in rights and wrongs. The film opens with the scenes of Aslam slicing a goat into pieces. He asks his grandmother afterwards. “Can anybody survive without meat?” She replies, “Perhaps in heaven”.

Bolat, on the other hand, is a typical school bully. He has no regard for others. He spreads terror in the student’s hearts with merciless punishments and villainous manners. He and his friends make Aslam drink water from a cup that was used to wash the genitals of other students during a medical camp. Since then, Aslam vomits whenever he sees a cup. Bolat asks other students to isolate Aslam and warns of severe consequences if they maintain friendship with him.

Later we realize that Bolat is just a pawn in the hands of some bigger bullies outside the school, some of them are even religious fundamentalists.

The film meanders along for some time, sketching the character profiles of Aslam and Bolat. The teachers’ lecture provides some kind of verbal humor. The science teacher, while teaching different forms of energy, describes money as the life’s source of energy. His reasoning: “We need food for power. What gives us food? Money”.

This is in stark contrast with the deadpan seriousness of Aslam about the studies. When he solves a difficult physics problem, the teacher congratulates him and asks him to participate in local science competitions. Aslam curtly retorts: “Is physics a sport”.

In another instance, a scene showing Bolat’s acts of brutal violence is immediately followed by the lectures on Mahatma Gandhi.

The film gathers pace when Mirsain joins them. He is uncomfortable with Bolat’s bullying all along, but he gradually accepts it after an initial round of physical fight. But Aslam is kind of waging an ideological war, and he is more serious about it. We see Aslam making a crude gun, using two pipes and gown powder. One day, it happens: Somebody kills Bolat. Aslam and Mirsain are the prime suspects. Both deny the accusations. What follows is heartless interrogation from police officers, leading to the film’s powerful climax.

The highlight of the final sequences is the scene in which Aslam sitting on the side of a picturesque lake and Bolat and Mirsain calling him from the other bank. A goat navigates the lake smoothly. Aslam gets back to life.    

Emir Baigazin has mostly used static shots, as if trying to establish that he is also just another viewer of the lives of his characters. The amateur actors produced some incredible performances. The film at times reminds you of William Golding’s The Lord of Flies, which also captures children’s cruelty and lets it reflect on the unjust society and the world at large.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

IFFK 2011 – Day 5

I missed IFFK yesterday. But today I saw three movies, all Competition Section films: The Cat Vanishes, an Argentine film directed by Carlos Sorin, Body, a Turkish film directed by Mustafa Nuri (which got rave reviews from the local press in Malayalam), and The Colours of the Mountains, a Colombian film directed by Carlos César Arbeláez.

The Cat Vanishes

It is kind of a psychological drama played out mostly in a single house. It revolves around a professor, who has just been discharged from a psychological clinic, and his wife, who has an eerie feeling that all is not well with her husband even after the rehabilitation. He had been legally forced to undergo the treatment after he had acted violently towards one of his students and his his wife, whom he suspected of stealing his research work.

All the action unfolds in the first three days after the visit. The wife's suspicion about her husband's mental health strengthens when she saw their pet cat reacting violently to him. But he is at his usual self, few words and all sarcasm. The tension grows when the cat disappears. The climax is superbly conceived and executed.

The director employs mostly close-up shots and succeeds in bring out the somewhat hidden tension between the professor and his wife. The actors played the roles of the professor and his wife, Luis Luque and Beatriz Spelzini, respectively, have given nuanced performances, without going overboard. The climax is stunning, though many viewers were seen asking the others, what was it?


Mustafa Nuri, the director of the film, has become a small celebrity in the Malayalam media after his charmed speeches and the film. There were great reviews about the film in almost all newspapers and TV channels. Predictably, a huge crowd assembled in New Theatre before the screening of the movie. I somehow managed to enter the theatre, thanks to reservation and my rugby skills. But I have to say the film was a disappointment. Perhaps the high expectations are to blame.

The film narrates the story of how almost every character in the movie is affected by his or her body. The main protagonists are a 40-something ex-porn actress and her teenaged lover. There is nothing much to write about the story of the film: it's kind of boy meets an old woman. They meet at the shoot of a failed porn film, arranged by her ex-lover, who wants to make some money through porn industry. There are other characters involved too. The boy's mother and sister, both are overweight, his friend, who is a fitness fanatic, but dies at the age of 20. The porn film director emerges as the most interesting character in the movie.

The Colours of the Mountains

This is yet another anti-war film from Columbia, seen through the eyes of a 10-year old boy. The movie is set in a mountainous village which is about to be wrecked by the civil war. Villagers are fearful of both the guerillas and the army.

The boy owns a football and plays in the field along with his friends. He gets a brand new football on his 10th birthday. One of his friends kicks the ball through the slope to the valley. They are about to take the ball. Then a pig ran through the place, and sudden explosion results. The pig has stepped into a land mine. The elder people who gathered there prohibit the kids from playing there. The boy wants to take the ball and nobody allows him. The rest of the film narrates the boys attempts to take the ball while the rest of the village tries to flee the place because of the civil war.

The good thing about the movie is that it does not take sides. It provides a chillingly emotionless narrative. The pace is slow, much like the neorealistic films in Malayalam.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

IFFK 2011 Day 3

I saw three movies today. I had planned to watch the Competition Section films, but changed mind at the last moment. Instead, I watched Daddy, a Croatian film directed by Dalobar Matanic, Come As You Are (or Hasta la Vista), a Belgian film directed by Geoffrey Enthoven, and Two Escobars, a soccer documentary.


Daddy is psychological drama set in a hilly village in Croatia during winter. Two daughters are going to meet their father, who left them and their mother many years ago. They are accompanied by the lover of the elder sister. They find no one in the house, but they decide to wait. The younger daughter wants to leave, but stay on as others decide to stay there for that night. They drink, eat, and sleep, but still no trace of the father. The next morning the father comes. He shows no affection to them. While the elder sister tries to ease out things, the younger one returns the compliment.

Things become complicated when the elder sister goes out with her father and tries, though in vain, to persuade him for a reunion with the family. In the meantime, the younger sister, frustrated at being neglected, tries to seduce the lover of her sister. In the night they make love. The father sees it. He cautions the young man the next morning. The young man accuses him of neglecting his family. In a sudden rage, he kills the young man in front of the sisters. The sisters run away and hide in another building. Things become more gruesome in the end.

The storyline is good, the atmosphere is isolated, yet splendid. There is mounting tension between the characters. But still the film does not have the gripping mood that great films of this genre have. Somehow, it fails to gain enough spark and come alive.

Come As You Are

This is a light comedy about three handicapped people. Two of them are confined to wheel chairs (one of them is a cancer patient too) and the third one is partially blind. But they are after what most men in the universe are after: wine and women. They plan to go for a wine trip, but the real destination of their trip is a high class brothel in Spain which they come across on the Internet. Their family members refuse the idea, but they manage to hire a driver-cum-nurse and start the journey. The film narrates the incidents in their journey. The finally make it to the brothel, leading to a poignant climax.

Two Escobars

The fist one is Andrea Escobar, the footballer who was killed for scoring an own goal in the World Cup. The second is Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug mafia lord in Columbia, who was glorified in News of Kidnapping, a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The documentary shows how the lives, and deaths, of these two were connected, and how soccer influenced their lives. The documentary has a fast-paced narrative, laced with some high voltage action from the soccer field.

Its most striking aspect is how it precisely maps the connection between the rise of Colombian soccer and the money from drug mafia. Once the drug money is out, Colombian soccer collapsed. Chillingly, soccer becomes more important than a matter of life and death, though not in the manner Bill Shankly, the Liverpool legend, imagined. It truly symbolized what Eduardo Galeano wrote in the opening of his book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow: “The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty”.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

IFFK 2011 - Day 2 Night

The last two films I watched today were Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan in Ajantha Theatre and Faust by Aleksander Sokurov in Sree Padmanabha.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

I had become an instant fan of Nuri Ceylan after watching Three Monkeys in one of the previous IFFKs. Once Upon a Time ... is a typical Ceylan film: protagonists in deep emotional turmoil and the visual landscape somehow conspired to reflect their minds.

The film narrates the events happened in a night and the next day in Antalonia, a vast sloppy grass-field in Turkey. Police officials are taking an accused and co-accused to the fields in search of a dead body they buried in the field. The entire field looks the same and the accused cannot find the exact spot where the body was buried. Rain and a windy night cannot help things. The team includes a prosecutor, a doctor, a police superintendent, his deputy, some sergeants, and two diggers. And most of them simply hate each other. Tempers fray as the tension and frustration mounts. They still cannot identify the place.

They stop work as the storm intensifies and stay in the house of a village head nearby. In the night they learn a lot deal more about themselves and others. The accused killed his friend after he had accidentally disclosed to his friend in drunken revelry that he was the father of the other's son. The next day they identify the dead body and the body is taken to the town to conduct autopsy.

More than the storyline, it is the environment of the film that fascinates viewers. You see many of the usual Ceylan visuals in this film too: various objects loosely flying around in the night wind, paths that seem to catch fire from the vehicle headlights, and solitary trees frightened by the night around them. The narrative also includes many subplots, like the pasts of the prosecutor and the doctor and the present lives of the police officials.

One caveat to add though. The film is not as gripping as Three Monkeys or Climates. Towards the end, the tension that prevails till the end in the former films somewhat relieves in this film.


Faust, a loose adaptation of Goethe's 19th century German tragedy, is more fast paced than one would expect for an Aleksander Sokurov film. It deals with the power struggle between the good and the evil (or god and satan), where Faust, a doctor and scientist, who seeks the ultimate truth and asks honest questions to himself, becomes the rope in that tug of war.

Tomorrow I am planning to watch two Competition Section films of IFFK 2011: Black Blood, a Chinese film directed by Miaoyan Zhang, and Body, a Turkish film directed by Mustafa Noori.

IFFK 2011 - Day 2 Afternoon

I watched two films so far today. First I saw L'argent (or Money) by Robert Bresson in Kalabhavan theatre. It is a brilliantly crafted film, based on a story of Leo Tolstoy. Some peices of counterfeit notes go in circulation in Paris. The notes change many hands. Finally, an innocent young man receives the notes and gets caught when he unsuspectingly tries to do transaction with these notes. The film narrates the radical changes that happen in his and others' lives.

Despite a simple story line, it is not a film that tells a simple moralistic tale. The beauty of the film lies in its shots. The camera does not focus on human beings and their faces. Instead we see all kinds of mechanical objects: metal locks, iron bars, plastic pipes, hack saw, and variety of doors and passages. You also see people's legs, their back, anything except their face. People who passes through these objects become less important than these objects. The film chillingly suggests they become less important because they are after the 'visible god' among all objects: money.

I had planned to watch Eternity and a Day by Theodoros Angelopoulos. But I learned about the change of schedule only when I reached Dhanya Theatre. After some instant research with schedule, the Festival Book, and the Daily Bulletin, I decided it best to watch the replacement movie, Of Gods and Men, a Fench film directed by Xavier Beauvois.

It is sober tale based on a real life incident happened in 1996 in Tibhirine,a hilly village of Algeria during the civil war. Nine French monks were living in a monstery which was the fulcrum by which the village functions. When the civil war broke out, the monks were asked to leave by various factions, including the French adn the Algerian governments. But they refused to leave, citing the bible verses and remembering the Sacrifice. Intially some members were reluctant. Later, after some rounds of intimidation from both the warring sides, the reluctant members too must enough courage to stay on.  They stay on despite the heaping deadbodies and ruthless mass murder in their surroundings. Finally, they were abdducted and killed.

It is a slow-paced film, interspersed regularly with relegious sermons and biblical verses. It asks perhaps the most relevant question of our times: "For whom do they kill?"

Next I am going to watch one of the most anticipated movies in IFFK 2011: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia in Ajantha theatre. Hopefully there won't be any change of films.