Friday, December 28, 2007

Blog, blogger, bloggest … Degrees of one-upmanship

“Blog” is ordinary, quite ordinary. Blogger imagine himself to be better, comparatively being in a higher state than the blog. And the “bloggest” are the comments which look superior to both the blog and the blogger. If you are wondering what is the fuzz all about, please visit the Malayalam blog of M.K. Harikumar (who is reasonably well known among the tiny circle of people who still care about Malayalam literature review) and see yourself the posts written in obscure prose and the comments they provoked.

Friday, December 14, 2007

XXY = 10+4: IFFK 2007 Retreats to Memory

IFFK 2007 bids adieu as usual with a hint of anti-climax. None of the much awaited movies won the Suvarnachakoram prize. The prize was shared by XXY, an Argentinean film directed by Lucia Puenzo, and 10 + 4, an Iranian film directed by Mania Akbari. The audience award went as expected to the Chinese film Getting Home, directed by Zhang Yang. Ore Kadal, directed by Syamaprasad , was judged as the best Malayalam film by two sets of juries. The following are the rest of the awards:

NETPAC award for the best Malayalam film: Ore Kadal
Fipresci award for the best Malayalam film: Ore Kadal
NETPAC award for the best Asian film in competition: Getting Home
Fipresci award for the best film in competition: Sleepwalking Land
12th IFFK awards a special jury prize to the director: Mr. Abdullah Oguz of the Turkish film Bliss
Rajatha Chakoram and cash prize of Rs. 3 lakhs for the best debut film of a director: Lucia Puenzo from Argentina for her film XXY
Rajatha chakoram and cash prize of Rs. 2 lakhs for the best director:: Mr.Mania Akbari from Iran for her film 10+4.

The jury, headed by the famous Iranian director Jafar Panahi, seems to have reached a conclusion in algebraic terms after so much thinking: XXY = 10+4. There is nothing that separates these films in terms of craft or quality, according to the jury. But the audience have no such problem as 33% of those cared to vote did in favor of Getting Home.

Vipin Vijay, the much-ridiculed director of signature film, was facilitated in the closing ceremony. I am winding up the IFFK blogging with this curious incident about the signature film: The signature film had been greeted with deafening boos consistently throughout the festival from the second day itself. In the last day, one of my friends saw a foreigner booing at the signature film. He was pleasantly surprised at the thought that the signature film managed to bring out the uncivilized face of even a foreign dignitary. After the show, he asked the foreigner the reason for his howls. The foreigner was surprised and asked: “Isn’t this the custom here to greet a movie?”
The End.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

IFFK – Day 7

Portrait of an Artist

I saw the Korean film Chihawaseon in New Theatre. The film is directed Im Kwon Taek. Seven of his over hundred films have been included in this retrospective. I had heard about his film Surrogate Mother, which was shown in India previously in some other name. I could not watch Surrogate Mother. But this film, Chihawaseon, gives glimpses of Im Kwon Taek’s brilliant oeuvre. This is a gripping portrayal of the eccentric life of an unconventional painter. He was born in a slum. But his immense potential with brush was spotted during his childhood and he received sufficient training to grow into a masterful painter. In the film, we can see his turbulent life, where he could not exorcise his inner ghosts. He was consumed by the same fire within him that lighted up his paintings. The film is slow in most parts, but is studded with beautiful visuals, which are cleverly used to symbolize the state of mind of the hero.

All in all, today was a good day with three satisfying films, though not as spectacular as Sunday when I watched three fantastic movies (Closely Watched Train, Talk to Her and Getting Home). I think I may not watch any more film in the festival as tomorrow will be a busy day in my office. That means I have to wait for some more years for some other festival to watch the movies like Time directed by Kim Ki Duc and the Romanian film which won high critical acclaim, Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.

The race for the best film award is heading to an exciting climax, with nobody being sure of which film will move the heart of the jury members more. Initially Teeth of Love, a Chinese film directed by Zhuang Yuxin, and Getting Home, another Chinese film directed by Zhang Yang, were the favorites. Now Sleepwalking Land, a film from Portugal/Mozambique, directed by Teressa Puenzo, and Bliss, a Turkish film, directed Abdullah Oguz, have emerged as dark horses. But one delegate quipped that he won’t be surprised if one of the Malayalam entries to the competition section, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) and Paradesi, will win in the end, given the standing and the canvassing skill of the directors. I sincerely hope my friend will be proved wrong, as I have great respect for Adoor.

IFFK – Day 7- Evening

A Humour Fest from Menzel

I took leave from office today to watch films. The film I Served the King of England, directed by Jiri Menzel, justified my decision. This is a hilarious comedy, which explores how the tyrannical regimes – be it fascist or communist – affect the lives of a ordinary people. The film opens with an old man coming out of jail. Soon he sets the tone for laughter with this witty remark: "I always had the fortune to run into a misfortune". The film is studded with flashbacks – memories of the protagonist. He was a bar attender. The film revolves around changes in his life and in society at various historical events in Czechoslovakia, like German invasion and Communist revolution. Also the film detailedly depicts the highly imaginative sex life of the hero. I think the film is a fine mix of sexual comedy and historical satire.

Now I am going New Theatre to watch Chihawaseon, a Korean film of Im Kwon Taek retrospective. I haven’t seen any of his films and I guess today is my last chance to see one. So far this year’s festival has been conducted exceptionally well. The usual drunken arguments in Open Forums and sometimes in the theatres have been almost non-existent. The only controversy is regarding signature film of the festival. Some noted filmmakers and some in the media have demanded the withdrawal of the signature film, which is created by Vipin Vijay, an upcoming film maker whose films include Hawa Mahal and Video Game. The festival authorities are defending the signature films by criticising the audience who boo the signature film and the media which portrays the signature film in bad light.

My view, if you are interested, is that both sides are wrong. Festival authorities selected this signature film obviously after seeing some merit in this film. So no question of withdrawing the film. Also, it would be great insult to a promising director. Also the audience have the right to express their displeasure and the media have the right to criticise. So let the signature film be continued and so be the boos.

IFFK – Day 7 – Afternoon

A Balkan Comedy

I saw an interestingly titled Croatian film What is a Man Without a Moustache, directed by Hrvoje Hribar, in New Theatre. The title perfectly captures the mood of the film. The film depicts the happenings in a Croatian village. The main thread of the movie is the fruitless love affair between a young widow and a good-looking priest, who is trying hard to resist his temptation to alcohol. Just as in the case of alcohol, he could not resist the feelings towards this beautiful woman. All these incidents are shown in a shade of satire. There are plenty of scenes that evoke rapturous laughter from the audience, like the affair between the general of the army and the defense minister and the actions of the alcoholic priest. If I have to give a verdict on the movie, it will be something like this: this is not a must-watch, great film, but a decent comedy.

The initial enthusiasm of most of the delegates has died down, it appears. There was not much crowd for this movie. Also, some people indulged in non-stop talking in theatre while watching the movie. My guess is that they must be some failed intellectuals or upcoming politicians. I suffered the most, as, to paraphrase a famous film dialogue, of all seats in all theatres of all this festival, they chose to sit next to mine. Next I am going to watch I Served the King of England by Jiri Menzel in Remya theatre. More satire is in cards, it seems.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

IFFK – Day 6

I saw the Chinese film Curse of the Golden Flower directed hang Yimou today. It had received good media reviews after its first screening. But I did not like the film. I am not to say that the film is bad. The film has most of the good ingredients: like good sets, good cinematography, well-choreographed battle scenes and excellent acting. But somewhere along the line, all those provide the film an aura of artificiality. But the film received thunderous applause from the not-so-houseful crowd.

The film is about the life and times of a king and a queen in an old Chinese dynasty. We got to see palace intrigues, conspiracies and a bit of illicit relationships. I don’t know this is a different version of an actual historical incident. But I think the film is not for those like me who prefer realistic movies. Some of the battle scenes are almost like the stunt scenes in a James Bond movie.

The signature film of the festival is making a lot of news off the screen. Yesterday, noted Malayalam director T.V. Chandran demanded withdrawal of the signature film. Today, Madhu Iravankara, an award-winning film critic, and V.K. Joseph, a higher official in the festival organizing committee, have written articles in the festival bulletin in defense of the signature film, which has been consistently booed at all the venues. They criticized the attitude of the audience who boo the signature film.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seen Films are Great, but Those Unseen …

Day 5 went without any new exciting film “finds”. By now all the competition section films have been screened. If crowd reaction can be a yard stick, Bliss, Teeth of Love, Getting Home and XXY vie for the tag of favorite to win the prize.

I think I have missed some really good movies. Heading the list of those sweeter unseen is 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, a Romanian film directed by Cristian Mungiu. Then I missed Volver of Pedro Almodovar (Almodovar films are running into problem again. This time lack of subtitles affected the screening of the movies Flowers of My Secret and Law of Desire). Buddha Collapsed in Shame, the inaugural film directed by Hana Makhmalbaf, is another film I must have seen. My Brother is an Only Child, an Italian film directed by Dannielle Luchetti, and California Dreaming, a Romanian film directed by Christian Nemescu, are highly rated by the delegates who saw those films. I haven’t seen any of Im Kwon Taek retrospective and Balkan films. So far, I am satisfied with the ‘hits’, so not much worry about the “misses”.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Day Damned: IFFK 2007 – Day 4

Today I could not attend IFFK because of my official compulsions. I had planned to watch a movie in the evening. But after the day’s work, I was damn tired to undertake a 40 km journey and watch a movie and come back. If TV channels are to be believed, the most impressive films screened today are two films of Competition section: Bliss (a Turkish film directed by Abdullah Oguz) and Teeth of Love (a Chinese film by nZhuang Yuxin). Even yesterday, there were whispers among the supposedly learnt delegates that Teeth of Love would be this year’s winner. But my vote is for the Chinese film Getting Home.

In today’s Kerala Kaumudi, another Chinese film, Curse of the Golden Flower, received an admirer’s review. The reporter mentions that he was forced to watch this movie in Remya theatre because he could not get seats for Getting Home, which was being shown in the adjoining Dhanya theatre. But the reporter of The Hindu was luckier and he did get a seat in Dhanya theatre. He could not hide his happiness as he lavished praises on the film in his report. In blogosphere too IFFK is making more waves. A blog that gives good reviews of IFFK films is tvmtalkies. A brief general overview of the film festival can be found in other blogs too such as heartbeats and aruninteblog.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

IFFK 2007 – Day 3 – Evening

An Ode to Human Spirit

Today was an excellent day of festival harvest. I have already written about the first two films: Closely Watched Train and Talk to Her, the appetizer and the main course of the day, respectively. The dessert did not fall behind too. Getting Home is a delightful celluloid ode that celebrates the power of human spirit. There is not a dull moment in the film. This film is part of the competition section. But usually films that make people laugh do not win IFFK prize. It always goes to some serious films. Well, if Giri Menzel was here as the jury head, as arranged previously (but he could not come because of some minor accident), he would have been extremely happy with this film.

Getting Home is a Chinese film directed by Zhang Yang. It is the story of a man taking an arduous, but often comic, journey to a village in the farthest part of China to keep a promise he had made to his friend. He is taking his friend’s dead body to the dead man’s village. The remarkable aspect is that he is still treating the body as his friend, not a “dead body”. He makes the body sit with him in a bus, in public places, and often addresses him. His journey is so hilarious that laughter never ceased in the theatre. He encounters several charming people: a dead man coming back after his organized funeral, a truck driver who drove 300000 kilometers for his lover only to see her snubbing him later, a destitute woman whose son is studying in a prestigious university, and so on. This is really a film that may probably help you get over your worries. The spirit of the characters influences the viewers.

Media coverage of IFFK (including that in blogs like this and AEIOh!You) reminds me of the old saying about blind men describing the elephant. There is no similarity among the reports. For example, today’s Keralakaumudi (which provides the best coverage among Malayalam dailies) lists five “amazing” films, most of which are not reported in other papers (read the report here). Talking about Newspaper articles there is an interesting article about delegates in The Hindu on 8/12/2207: Birds of a Festival, imaginatively written by Geetika Sudeep.

IFFK – Day 3 – Afternoon

Incredible Almodovar

Spectators in New Theatre can consider themselves wise for choosing Talk to Her to watch over Buddha Collapsed in Shame. I haven’t seen Buddha Collapsed in Shame. But I don’t see eighteen-year old Hana Makhmalbaf, the director of Buddha Collapsed in Shame, making anything half as good as this film by Pedro Almodovar. It will take years, if ever, she would make such a film. If Almodovar impressed the audience yesterday with All About My Mother, today he stunned or mesmerized ( or better, created an un-describable feeling in) the audience with Talk to Her. It is a film that cannot be fit into a single label, a sure sign of a great movie. It can be a heart-drenching love story, a sensitive portrayal of a strange incident or an artistic depiction of a few modern-day lives. A skeleton summary of the film can be given like this: A lonely man, who is a nurse by profession, fell in love with a beautiful dancer. Soon she met with an accident and was confined to coma. Our man nurses her for four years, still keeping his tender love intact. One day she became pregnant. He was charged with raping her and arrested. After giving birth to a dead baby, she miraculously came out of coma. I don’t want to spoil climax of the movie, with this clumsy synopsis.

In an unforgettable allegoric sequence, the hero sees a movie titled Shrinking Love. In that film, the protagonist drink the new medicine invented by his lover which for reducing the body weight. After drinking the medicine, the hero goes on shrinking. In a hilarious ending, the heroine carries the hero in a small chest case. Then the hero actually goes inside the vagina of the heroine and stays there forever!

Many dignitaries were present to watch the movie, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The delegates have found a novel use for the festival bags. In a disturbing trend, some delegates are booking the seats for their friends in advance by placing the festival bag on the chair. The blasphemy (nothing less) is that the reserved seats will remain vacant because the persons who were supposed to come will not turn up. This happens when people are sitting on floor. Anyway, hope better sense will prevail soon.

Now I am going to have lunch and then race to Dhanya theatre to watch Getting Home. I heard it is the story of a man carrying his friend’s dead body to the dead man’s house in the other end of China. The storyline appears interesting.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

IFFK – Day 3 – Morning

I watched Closely Watched Train of Jiri Menzel today morning. (The actual title of the film is Strictly Watched Train; also the actual title of yesterday’s Menzel film is Snow Drop Festivities, not Snow Drop Festival.) It was a much-expected film for me – and for many others as was obvious from the large number of people thronged Sree theatre, the smallest among the theatres for this festival. But I must confess that the film did not live up to my expectations; perhaps because it is an old film (made in 1966) and my expectations were contemporary. I was expecting a satirical roller-coaster like the films of Louis Bunuel and Emir Kusturica. But the film is somewhat laid-back for a large part and suddenly burst into life towards the latter part. Nevertheless, it is satirical movie, dealing with the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The film portrays the incidents in a railway station, where the protagonist comes to join as am official. He is suffering from a peculiar problem: he has not made love yet.

The mood is quite relaxed in IFFK today. The signature film was, deservedly, booed today. It is actually the butt of many jokes. My take is that it is a demonstration of symptoms of Chikungunya, a disease that affected many people recently in Kerala.

Now I am going to watch Talk to Her by Pedro Almodovar in New Theatre. Hopefully, I will get seat, as Buddha Collapsed in Shame (in Ajantha theatre) by Hana Makhmakbaf appears to be the favorite of most of the people.

IFFK 2007 – Day 2 – Evening

Overall, it was a satisfying day: Menzel for breakfast, Almodovar for lunch and the film After the Wedding for a crispy evening bite, with the lunch being heavy as is usually the case in Kerala. Snow Drop Festival of Giri Menzel is a refreshing comedy set in a funny village and All About My Mother is a stunningly candid portrayal of the marginalized in Spanish society. Though After the Wedding is slightly boring towards the end, it is also a brisk-paced film that deals with the life of a Swede, who is trying to set up an orphanage in India, and a wealthy man whom he seeks for funds to realize his venture. Soon it appears that the wife of the wealthy man is his former girl friend.

Tomorrow I am going to watch again Menzel-Almodovar magic. Closely watched Trains and talk to her in the morning. I have decided to watch Mirage (Balkan package) in the evening.

IFFK 2007 - Day 2 - Afternoon

Almodovar Unleashed

For once, all the hype was justified. There has been a great buzz about Pedro Almodovar retrospective in this year’s festival. All About My Mother is considered in many circles as the film through which Almodovar came of age. And today we knew why. This is easily one of the best films in the festival so far. It is a film whose beauty cannot be conveyed by the plot summary or technical explanations. Each frame is meticulously constructed and the whole frames forming the parts of a stunning film sculpture. So in that sense Almodovar has been unleashed in IFFK now.

I am disappointed with the signature film of the festival. Despite the claims in IFFK website regarding the signature film being a blend of creativity and technology, I found it rather a blend of pseudo-creativity and broken visuals. It appears like a music album gone wrong. Even the customary chakoram, designed by the late Aravindan, is missing. Now I am going to watch After the Wedding in Ajantha theatre.

Friday, December 07, 2007

IFFK 2007 - Day 2 Morning

A Feast of Satire

I saw Spring Drop Festival by Giri Menzel today morning from Kalabhavan Theatre. The film started quite slowly, but in a unique way, with camera panning across a snow-clad village. The film went on eventless for the first 15 minutes or so. Just when I thought Menzel is not up to my expectation a curious incident of killing a pig changed the complexion of the film. From there on it was a feast of class satire. A nice film to begin with. Now I am going to watch All About My Mother of Pedro Almodovar. Considering the kind of publicity the director got, I think it is better to get into the theatre at least half an hour before. So I have to rush.

IFFK 2007 - Day 2 Morning

Feast of Satire

I have seen Spring Drop Festival by Giri Menzel today morning form Kalabhavan Theatre. The film started quite slowly, but in a unique way, with camera panning across a snow-clad village. The film went on eventless for the first 15 minutes or so. Just when I thought Menzel is not up to my expectation a curious incident of killing a pig changed the complexion of the film. From there on it was a feast of class satire. A nice film to begin with. Now I am going to watch All About My Mother of Pedro Almodovar. Considering the kind of publicity the director got, I think it is better to get into the theatre at least half an hour before. So I have to rush.

IFFK 2007 – Day 1

The festival has been formally inaugurated by Kamalhassan in a glittering ceremony in Nishaganthi Opean Air Auditorium. Many famous personalities including Mohanlal and Chilean director Miguil Littin were present on the occasion. After the ceremony Buddha Collapsed in Shame by Hana Makhmalbaf was shown. The film drew great applause from the audience. Earlier, the films of the first day were rather unspectacular. But fans of Pedro Almodóvar got an eyeful through the film Dark Habits. Another film that many people found interesting is the Greek film Brides directed by Pantelis Voulgaris.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I am planning to watch Snowdrop Festival (Kalabhavan 9 AM) of Jirí Menzel and All About My mother (Kalabhavan 11. 30 AM) of Pedro Almodóvar, and After the Wedding (Ajantha 3 PM), which has attracted good reviews in recently concluded IFFI. If I have enough time and energy for one more movie, I will watch either Night train (Kripa 6. 30 PM) (whose one-liner sounds attractive: “A prison executioner visits a matchmaking agency, mistaking the vengeful husband of an executed convict as a potential match.”) or Playing Away (6.30 Kalabhavan), which is a black comedy having the game of cricket as the backdrop.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lights, Camera, Action, IFFK ….

The wait has been over and curtains will be raised for IFFK 2007 today. Buddha Collapsed in Shame (by Hana Makhmalbaf) is the opening film of the festival. It is going to be screened in Nishaganthi Auditorium at 7 pm after the inaugural ceremony. (Mind you, the Buddha in the movie does refer to the actual Buddha and not the Buddha of Bengal and now Nandigram fame, though the latter has every reason to collapse in shame.) That is the formal part of it. But the actual screening of the films starts from 9’o clock in the morning. So let us dive into the aesthetic pool of, hopefully, remarkable celluloid art.

The following are today’s films, their timings and synopsis (Source; IMDB, Wikipedia, Yahoomovies). Apart from these, three documentaries, Nomads TX (Sree Theatre, 3 PM), A Song for Arrgyris (Kalabhavan, 9 AM), and Potosi, The Journey (Kalabhavan, 6.30 PM), are also going to be screened. Complete schedule can be downloaded from

Samiya (Kairali, 11.30 AM)

it is a moving drama about Algerian girls in France, growing up
modern on the outside and miserable on the inside in a strict Muslim
household where they're little more than servants.
Comment: Samia tells an old story about a teenager who rebels against
her family values asserting her demands to be her own person. In the
case of "Samia", the teen is an Algerian girl living with a traditional
Muslim family in France. During this short film we get to see Samia
sulking, fighting with her brother, sulking, hanging out with friends,
sulking, going to the seashore, sulking, refusing to have her hymen
examined and, yeah, more sulking. The film shows some traditional and
presumably Algerian costuming, dancing, music, meals, etc.

Sopyonje (Kalabhavan, 3 PM)

One day in the early 1960’s, Dongho, a man in his thirties (Kim
Kyu-Chul) arrives at a village inn. He is absorbed in deep thought
while listening to a Pansori song by a woman of the inn. In his
childhood, Yubong, a vagabond singer of Pansori (Kim Myung-Gon), comes
to his village. Yubong falls in love with Dongho’s widowed mother. He
leaves the village with Dongho, the widow, and his adopted daughter
Songhwa (Oh Jung-Hae). However, the widow dies while delivering
Yubong’s baby. Yubong teaches Songhwa Pansori music, and teaches
Dongho the drum. Songhwa and Dongho are raised as a pair of Pansori
singer and drummer. They wander about doing Pansori for a living, but
their lives are getting harder during and after the Korean civil war.
With the influence of western culture, Pansori gradually becomes less
appreciated and favored, even despised by people. Dissatisfied with
his miserable life, Dongho leaves home after having a dispute with
Yubong. Broken hearted, Songhwa refuses to do Pansori. Yubong makes
her go blind in an attempt to complete her Pansori. Blind Songhwa
manages to lead a pitiable life after Yubong’s death. Time passes and
Dongho comes back with guilty feelings to look for Songhwa and Yubong.
He finally encounters Songhwa. Songhwa sings her Pansori at his
request with the accompaniment of his drum. After spending one night
together, they separate again. Songhwa leaves to continue her vagabond

Dark Habits (New Theare, 3 PM)

Unconventional Spanish comedy set in wild-and-crazy convent.
Over-the-top sex-and-drugs subject matter, uneven pace will deter many
viewers, but fans of director Almodóvar's bitchy yet good-natured
surrealism will still enjoy. This is Almodóvar’s first film to have a
proper producer and be made for a proper film company, rather than be
made on the hoof like his previous projects. Almodóvar has since
distanced himself from the film as he felt that he had to bow to
commercial considerations.

The Father (Kairali, 3 PM)

A WWII officer returns to discover family and peacetime aren't much to
his liking in the ultra-traditional Russian meller "The Father." Pic is
based on an Andrei Platonov short story whose indictment of the
conflict's emotional toll was too strong for the postwar Russian
government, but pic's existence renders the point universal. Story's
connection to Ernest Hemingway -- he translated the long-banned seven
pages and professed influence from them -- could attract literate auds,
though stolid drama seems best for fests, regional play and niche
ancillary.En route home, Captain Alexei Ivanov (Alexei Guskov, also
co-producer) meets pregnant young soldier Masha (Svetlana Ivanova) and
pretends to be her husband so her family will reaccept her. Later, he
grows bored with his wife, Lyuba (Polina Kutepova), and two kids, and
suspicious of Lubya's faithfulness during his absence. Acting honors go
to young nonpro Vassili Prokopiev, whose stern orders to mother and
sister, honed during dad's absence, steal pic outright. Tech package is
solid, though the almost operatic decay of the production design seems
too expansive for focused drama. Pic's May 9 domestic release coincided
with Russia's commemoration of WWII's cessation, called Victory Day.

Paris, je t'aime (Sree, 11.30 AM)

Paris, je t'aime is a 2006 film starring an ensemble cast of American,
British and French movie actors. The title means "Paris, I love you".
The two-hour film consists of eighteen short films.

Meisie (Kalabhavan, 11.30 AM)
Meisie is a gentle and humane film which is set on the peripheries of
the Kalahari Desert. The film focuses on a young girl, Meisie (Abrina
Bosman) who has an astonishing talent for mathematics, but is prevented
by her father from going to the local school. Instead, she is forced to
tend goats and practices her maths with stones on the desert sand. The
arrival of an inspirational new teacher in the town results in a change
that impacts on Meisie’s life forever.

Foreigner (Kripa, 3 PM)

A teenage girl (Agustina Munoz) wanders around the desert with her
little brother, knowing her powerful father (Carlos Portaluppi) is
determined to kill her, in the belief this sacrifice will end a
terrible drought. Offering an occasional POV on the spare action is an
out-of-place foreigner (played in Polish by Maciej Robakiewicz), who
looks as puzzled as most viewers will at what's going on. Film's strong
point is its setting in a rocky, burnt-out desert whose elemental
forces, thrown onscreen in knockout Cinemascope by lenser Gerardo
Silvatici, create an atmosphere of timeless tragedy. Pacing is leaden.

Blind (Ajantha, 3 PM)
It is a story about a blind boy (may be around 20 years of age) –
played by Joren Seldeslachts - who is wild and lives with his mother in
a palatial county type house; and his care taker lady (may be around 30
years of age) – brilliantly enacted by Halina Reijn (remember
Zwartboek?) - who is suffering from albino – i.e. body does not produce
enough pigment and the a person has pale or colorless skin, eyes and
hair. Joren starts falling in love with Halina without noticing about
her albino disease because he is blind. Halina tries hard to evade
Joren's closeness – but is not able to resist her own fears, and falls
in love with Joren. Katelijne Verbeke plays the boy's mother who
notices this attraction and is against their relationship. The good
news comes when the boy is about to get his sight back and that is the
time Halina goes away – so that Joren would always remember her as a
beautiful girl. But Joren is persistent and after regaining his sight
desperately searches for Halina. Do they meet? And what happens after
that – I will not tell you and spoil your show.The backdrop is – I think Belgium or Bulgaria! The snow clad landscape
is captured with nature's ecstasy. The music is fantastic. Some scenes
are so greatly executed that without a word – just by images the
director communicates so many things, and that is the art of cinema.
Good movies bring you back to the soul – the core of our human values
and purity of love.

Monkeys in Winter (Dhanya, 3 PM)

Plots of the three strands are only glancingly related, with just
settings and minor details shared. For instance, in both of the last
two stories, characters watch a nature documentary on TV about monkeys
protecting their young during a snowstorm. These simian images not only
give pic its title but also provide ironic counterpoint to characters
here who behave in so-called "unnatural" ways.
Opening segment, pic's most straightforward, is set in 1961 and tracks
Dona (Bulgarian thrush Bonka Ilieva-Boni), a lusty woman of Gypsy
extraction, living in the suburbs outside the capital of Sofia and
raising three kids by herself. Deserted by her b.f., and with bailiffs
threatening to seize the family's meager possessions, Dona accepts an
offer from a local party official to match her with an elderly spouse.
But when her vile new husband makes a move on her young daughter, Dona
reacts with primal fury.
The story set in 1981 follows law student Lucretia (newcomer Diana
Dobreva, whose long black hair and sorrowful eyes evoke a living
Modigliani figure). In order to avoid being sent back to the sticks
upon graduation, she tries to get herself knocked up by another
student. When she really does get pregnant, however, her lack of faith
in her b.f.'s love leads her to commit the aforementioned "unnatural"
act out of fear he'll leave her.
Final strand centers round Tana (local star Angelina Slavova), the wife
of wealthy businessman Lazar, whose property development project just
happens to involve destroying Dona's now-derelict house. Happily in
love, Tana and Lazar have everything except a child. When Lazar is told
he's infertile, everything turns sour.

Brides (Remya, 3 PM)

Set in 1922, is the story of a mail order bride, one of 700, aboard the
SS KING ALEXANDER, who falls in love with an American photographer. She
is bound for her new husband, in New York; he is on his way home to a
failed marriage.
Comment: A touching yet subtle story of love, longing and desire. The
tragedy of the situation of these mail-order brides, lost without a
connection to their homeland, without money, family or hope for the
future. This was a beautifully shot and acted film. The director
Pantelis Voulgaris should be congratulated. Damian Lewis has never been
stronger, a gorgeous leading man, who gives his character Norman, such
a natural on screen presence, that there appears to be nothing
artificial about him. Niki is a fine leading female character, strong,
resolute, yet naturally human and weak. The love story, not just
amongst the principles simmered and grew, the sexual tension not forced
or faked. Wonderful.

Budha Collapsed in Shame (Nisaganthi, 7 PM)
The beauty and grief of present-day Afghanistan receives epic, poetic
treatment from Hana Makhmalbaf, the youngest member of master director
Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s remarkable family. Set in Bamian, the actual town
where the Taliban’s destruction of cultural treasures sickened the
world, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is an exotic and frightening
journey into the minds of the children who live in that desolate area –
and children affected by violence everywhere.
Like many Iranian filmmakers, Makhmalbaf chooses a little girl as her
narrative engine. When we meet this extraordinary young creature,
Baktay (Nikbakht Noruz), all she wants to do is go to the school for
girls that has opened up across the river. But she must overcome
Herculean obstacles to attend, starting with her family’s extreme
poverty and her mother’s indifference. In one incredible sequence, she
has to negotiate the purchase of the requisite pen and paper through a
complex transaction involving stolen eggs. She must also traverse a no
man’s land populated by a band of wild boys who delight in war games.
She is “captured” by them going both ways – once as an American spy,
then as a Taliban spy – and these scenes encapsulate Makhmalbaf’s
thesis about how violent “liberation” refracts in a child’s mind.
The film feels extremely authentic, largely due to the stripped-down
neo-realist style of the Makhmalbaf family’s projects and the fact that
they cast local non-professional actors for all the roles. But this is
not a documentary. The film sneakily reveals all sorts of narrative
surprises and political critiques despite its simple exterior. And, as
custom dictates in this kind of film, the little girl is almost too
cute for words, evoking gushes of sympathy toward her numerous trials.
The film’s title comes from Hana’s father. According to her, Mohsen
meant that “even a statue can be ashamed of witnessing all this
violence and harshness happening to these innocent people and,
therefore, collapse.” Shots of the looming emptiness in the Bamian
cliff faces that once housed these serene Buddhas are indeed among the
film’s most devastating moments.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Jump Cut to Art: Im Kwon Taek Retrospective in IFFK 2007

Perhaps the tongue-twister name of the director may not be as familiar with the film-buffs as that of Almodóvar or Kim Ki Duc. But Im Kwon Taek, one of the best known and most prolific directors from South Korea, has done what most mainstream Malayalam film makers desperately crave to do: making a successful transition from commercial to art films – and remaining successful in both. Even his life resembles the rags-to-riches story of a bollywood film.
Im Kwon Taek was born in a remote village in South Korea on May 2, 1936 in an impoverished family. He went Pusan in search of a job and worked there as a laborer in a shoe factory. Later he moved to Seoul and started working as a production assistant of Jeong Chang-hwa, an active film director of that time. Soon he learned the tricks of the trade and gained enough confidence direct a movie. He made his directorial debut in 1962 with the film Farewell to the Duman River. Soon he followed it with many box-office hits of various genres. But by the end of 1970s, he realized the necessity to make more meaningful films. His second innings, as a serious film-maker, started in 1981 with the film Mandala. His most recent famous films are Sopyonje and Chunhyang, both of which are included in the retrospective here. Both the films are marked by the fantastic use of Korean classical music, Pansori, and beautiful frames. The following are the synopsis of his films included in the retrospective (Source: Wikipedia,

1. Sopyonje (112 min, 1993)
One day in the early 1960’s, Dongho, a man in his thirties (Kim Kyu-Chul) arrives at a village inn. He is absorbed in deep thought while listening to a Pansori song by a woman of the inn. In his childhood, Yubong, a vagabond singer of Pansori (Kim Myung-Gon), comes to his village. Yubong falls in love with Dongho’s widowed mother. He leaves the village with Dongho, the widow, and his adopted daughter Songhwa (Oh Jung-Hae). However, the widow dies while delivering Yubong’s baby. Yubong teaches Songhwa Pansori music, and teaches Dongho the drum. Songhwa and Dongho are raised as a pair of Pansori singer and drummer. They wander about doing Pansori for a living, but their lives are getting harder during and after the Korean civil war. With the influence of western culture, Pansori gradually becomes less appreciated and favored, even despised by people. Dissatisfied with his miserable life, Dongho leaves home after having a dispute with Yubong. Broken hearted, Songhwa refuses to do Pansori. Yubong makes her go blind in an attempt to complete her Pansori. Blind Songhwa manages to lead a pitiable life after Yubong’s death. Time passes and Dongho comes back with guilty feelings to look for Songhwa and Yubong. He finally encounters Songhwa. Songhwa sings her Pansori at his request with the accompaniment of his drum. After spending one night together, they separate again. Songhwa leaves to continue her vagabond life.

2. The Tae Black Mountains (105 min, 1994)

Six years after renouncing the secular world to solve the riddle of life and death, young Buddhist monk Beob-wun (Ahn Sung-ki) is still roaming the country without coming any closer to enlightenment. While riding a bus, he sees a recreant monk placed in a predicament because he does not have his identification. He helps out the monk, named Ji-san (Jeon Mu-song), and the two begin to travel together. Ji-san, who always has a bottle of booze on hand and even carries around a suicide pill, sometimes seems like an enlightened saint and at other times like a reprobate infected by secular life. At first, Beob-wun regards Ji-san's eccentricities as mere outward show and despises him for it, but he increasingly senses an extraordinariness about his traveling companion. After repeated meetings and partings, the two monks settle down at a small temple deep in the mountains. While climbing up to the temple one day in an inebriated state, Ji-san falls asleep in the snow and freezes to death. Beob-wun burns Ji-san's remains and seeks out his own mother (Park jung-ja). He also meets Ok-sun, a woman Ji-san had never gotten over. His meetings reaffirm the futility of all secular relationships, and young Beob-wun sets off on his ascetic path once more.

3. Chunhyang (120 min, 2000)
The story of Chunhyang is a centuries-old Romeo and Juliet-like tale of young lovers. The governor's son, Mongryong (Cho Seung-woo), falls in love with the lovely Chunhyang (Lee Hyo-jung) while out on a day trip, and marries her without his father's knowledge. With his high standing, Mongryong is expected to take a test that will enable him to obtain a lofty career position. Since Chunhyang is of a lower caste, their marriage could jeopardize his career. Unfortunately, Mongryong's father gets appointed to a position in Seoul, and he is forced to move away from his new bride. Even worse, the new governor attempts to make Chunhyang a courtesan, but she refuses, staying faithful to her husband. The new governor jails her and sentences her to death.

4. The General's Son 1 (108 min, 1990) and The General's Son 2 (1991)
Kim Doo-han lost his mom at the age of eight and he survives on the streets as a singing beggar. His natural born fighting skills places him on the mean streets of Jongro with the kisaeng house Woomigwan at the center. He is soon recognized for his incredible strength and ability. He finds out through Shin Ma-jeok, the head of a student gang, that he is the son of General Kim Jwa-jin who fought against the Japanese army. Meanwhile, the Yakuzas expand their sphere of influence and try to take over the Jongro streets but Doo-han protects the Korean vendors of Jongro and wins their respect. When the head of Woomigwan, Kim Gi-hwan is arrested, Doo-han becomes the leader of the Jongro gang.

6. Surrogate Mother (95 min, 1987)

Surrogate Mother is set in the Joseon Dynasty. Shin Sang-gyu, the firstborn son in a distinguished family, and his wife Yun (Bang Hee) fail to produce an offspring. After much deliberation, his mother (Han Eun-jin) and his uncle Shin Chi-ho (Yoon Yang-ha) decide to bring in a woman to receive Sang-gyu's seed and give birth to an heir. Shin Chi-ho personally seeks out a village inhabited by women known to perform such surrogate services, and chooses Ok-nyeo (Kang Soo-yeon), the daughter of a former surrogate mother named Pil-nyeo (Kim Hyeong-ja), for his nephew. On the night of the consummation, Sang-gyu is captivated by Ok-nyeo's beauty and becomes enamored of her, to the intense jealousy of his wife Yun. When Ok-nyeo shows signs of being with child, the entire household exalts her. Even Ok-nyeo forgets her place for a while and comes genuinely to love Sang-gyu. Pil-nyeo looks back on her own past and remonstrates with her daughter, but Ok-nyeo refuses to listen. The moment Ok-nyeo gives birth to her son, he is placed in the arms of Sang-gyu's wife Yun. The Shin family rejoices, but Ok-nyeo is ordered to leave the house that very night, without ever having seen her son's face. One year later, Ok-nyeo rebels against the inhuman tradition of her time by hanging herself outside the house where her son lives.

7. Festival (103 min, 1996)

Jun Sub, a successful novelist, returns to the village of his youth for his mother’s funeral. The estranged family members bristle in each other’s company as the film compares the plot of one of Jun Sub’s novels with his own family.

8. Chihwaseon (Painted Fire) (2001)

Essentially the same movie as Julie Taymor's Frida, Chihwaseon tells the life story of a famous 19th-century Korean artist. It contains many great and beautiful passages, but the overall effect is too fast and basic. This film depicts the life of a drunken, womanizing, self-obsessed but brilliant artist. Jang Seung-Ub, also known as "Ohwon," is an outsider, a lower-class artist who teaches himself through raw perseverance and talent, while all other Korean artists rely on their upper-class upbringing. Ohwon paints with passion, while they paint with training. When a Japanese nobleman commissions a painting, he asks Ohwon how he achieved such high standing from such low beginnings. So begins the crash course in Ohwon's life. In the beginning, a man named Kim Byung-moon saves the young Ohwon from a beating in the street. The young boy draws him a picture by way of thanks, and Kim takes him on as an apprentice. In fits and starts, we see Ohwon variously working with his own young apprentice, going through women like they were toilet paper, drinking a lot, avoiding the volatile politics of the time and of course, painting.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Discrete Charm of Another Spaniard: Pedro Almodóvar Retrospective in IFFK 2007

Pedro Almodóvar in all probability would be the biggest crowd puller of this year’s IFFK. Not just because he is widely regarded as a master film maker from Spain after Louis Bunuel, who is an all-time favorite in IFFKs. Judging by the reaction of people towards his film Volver last year, Almodóvar retrospective should receive a welcome like the one a Rajanikanth film gets in Chennai. Last year, Volver created such a buzz among the festival crowd that the theatre was jam-packed at least 15 minutes before the commencement of the show. But to the disappointment of the restless crowd, the film could not be shown because of some technical problems of its sound track. (Later it was learnt that the problem was not actually with the sound track, but with the projecting equipment in the theatre. The sound track was embedded in some advanced technology that the projector in the theatre could not reproduce it.) Anyway, sound track had always been a matter of innovation for Almodóvar. In his initial films as an amateur, he could not find enough money to develop sound for the movies, which he shot using a Super-8 camera. So he would bring a tape recorder and play a cassette, in which all the dialogues and music are stored, when the movie was going on the screen. Later after his metamorphosis into a cult figure among art-house film audience he was hailed for his use of popular music in the films.

Born in a remote village in Spain in 1949, Almodóvar was attracted to films while he was studying in a religious school in a nearby town. Soon he went to Madrid, where he worked as a clerk in a telephone company in the day time and tried his hand in film-making in the evenings. The almost anarchic cultural atmosphere of Madrid immediately after the end of Franco regime was ideal for his iconoclastic film-making endeavors. But his amateur films were known more for the pornographic content than the stylistic narrative (One of his earlier works was Folle, folle, fólleme, Tim or, in English, Fuck Me, Fuck Me, Fuck Me, Tim). He made his first full-length movie, Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap, which was a disaster both technically and financially, in 1980. Later he remarked about the film: “[It] is a film full of defects. When a film has only one or two, it is considered an imperfect film, while when there is a profusion of technical flaws, it is called style.” But soon he came out with other films such as Labyrinth of Passions, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and All About My Mother in the next two decades to establish himself as a supreme creator of anarchic, complex, yet disturbingly powerful movies.

An interesting paradox about Almodóvar is that while he has been accused of bowing to the Hollywood pressure in some quarters, he is revered in most of the film festivals that show parallel films. Recently, his left-leaning political stance and his criticism of US invasion of Iraq have made him the darling of the left and an object of hatred for the rightwing. Coming back to films, most of his films have a complex narrative, studded with abstract symbolism and dry humor. So those seeking beautiful films with an easy-flowing storyline, look elsewhere. This is art for art’s sake.

The synopsis of his films included in the retrospective is given below (Sources: Sony pictures, IMDB,, wikipedia).

1. Dark habits (116 min, 1983)

Unconventional Spanish comedy set in wild-and-crazy convent. Over-the-top sex-and-drugs subject matter, uneven pace will deter many viewers, but fans of director Almodóvar's bitchy yet good-natured surrealism will still enjoy. This is Almodóvar’s first film to have a proper producer and be made for a proper film company, rather than be made on the hoof like his previous projects. Almodóvar has since distanced himself from the film as he felt that he had to bow to commercial considerations.

2. All about my mother (101 min, 1999)
A single mother in Madrid sees her only son die on his 17th birthday as he runs to seek an actress's autograph. She goes to Barcelona to find the lad's father, a transvestite named Lola who does not know he has a child. First she finds her friend, Agrado, also a transvestite; through him she meets Rosa, a young nun bound for El Salvador, and by happenstance, becomes the personal assistant of Huma Rojo, the actress her son admired. She helps Huma manage Nina, the co-star and Huma's lover, and she becomes Rosa's caretaker during a dicey pregnancy. With echoes of Lorca, "All About Eve," and "Streetcar Named Desire," the mothers (and fathers and actors) live out grief, love, and friendship.

3. Kika (114 min, 1993)

Almodóvar spins out enough frenetic material for four normal movies in this penetrating satire. Peter Coyote costars as Nicholas, an American writer living in Spain whose wife has killed herself, and whose stepson, Ramon (Alex Casanova), is obsessive and narcoleptic. Ramon's ex-girlfriend, Andrea "Scarface" Garacortada is a TV show host for a program that could be called "Spain's Most Violent Home Videos." Played by Spanish star Victoria Abril, Andrea is seductive, manipulative, and will stop at nothing to get a story, spending most of the movie with a camera strapped to the top of her head. Then there is Kika (Verónica Forqué), a flighty make-up artist in love with Nicholas but engaged to Ramon. When the sexually superhuman brother of Kika’s lesbian maid (Rossy De Palma) rapes Kika in a very bizarre scene, this somehow causes all the links to come together, as the footage of the rape ends up on Andrea's show, and sinister secrets come out from all directions. With topics ranging from motherhoood to serial killers, this is a sexy, insane work from the great Almodóvar and deserves discovery by brave-hearted American audiences.

4. Talk to her (112 min, 2002)

The film revolves around two men who become friends while taking care of the comatose women they love. Their lives flow in all directions, past, present and future, pulling them towards an unsuspected destiny. Combining elements of modern dance and silent filmmaking with a narrative that embraces coincidence and fate, Almodóvar plots the lives of his characters, thrown together by unimaginably bad luck, towards an unexpected conclusion. The film was hailed by critics and embraced by arthouse audiences. Almodóvar won numerous honors across the world for his film, including a French César for Best Film and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

5. Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (90 min, 1988)

The film, staged as a faux adaptation of a theatrical work, details a two-day period in the life of Pepa, a professional movie dubber who has been abruptly abandoned by her married lover and who frantically tries to track him down. In the course of her search she discovers some of his secrets, and realizes her true feelings. This light comedy of rapid-fire dialogue and fast-paced action remains one of Almodóvar’s most accessible films (with no drugs or sex). The film received public and critical acclaim worldwide, and brought Almodóvar to the attention of American audiences.

6. Flowers of my secret (103 min, 1995)
Flowers of my secret is the story of Leo Macias, a successful romance writer who has to confront both a professional and personal crisis. Estranged from her husband, a military officer who has volunteered for an international peacekeeping role in Bosnia to avoid her, Leo fights to hold on to a past that has already eluded her, not realizing she has already set her future path by her own creativity and by supporting the creative efforts of others. This psychological drama was hailed as Almodóvar's most mature film to date, and remains one of the director's humblest films. Leaving Almodóvar's usual choral exercises aside, the story centered on the love-torn writer.

7. To return (Volver) (121 min, 2006)

This film is set in part in La Mancha (the director’s native region). The film opens showing dozens of women furiously scrubbing the graves of their deceased, establishing the influence of the dead over the living as a key theme. The plot follows the story of three generations of women in the same family who survive wind, fire, and even death. The film is an ode to female resilience, where men are literally disposable. Many of Almodóvar's stylistic hallmarks are present: the stand-alone song (a redemption of the tango song "Volver”), references to reality TV.

8. Bad education (106 min, 2004)
Two children, Ignacio and Enrique, discover love, cinema and fear in a religious school at the start of the 1960s. Father Manolo, the school principal and their literature teacher, is witness to and part of these discoveries. The three characters meet twice again. Almodóvar used elements of film noir, borrowing in particular from Double Indemnity. The film's protagonist, Juan, is a criminal without scruples, but with an adorable face that betrays nothing of his true nature. Almodóvar explains : " He also represents a classic film noir character - the femme fatale. Which means that when other characters come into contact with him, he embodies fate, in the most tragic and noir sense of the word."

9. Live flesh (1997)

Almodóvar has written all of his films, but with Live Flesh the director shared script writing credits. This was his first--and so far only--script adapted from a book, Ruth Rendell’s novel of the same name. All that remains in the film from the book is the plot line of the two male protagonists: David, a police detective, and Víctor, the man accused of wounding and paralyzing him. Upon his release, Víctor, looking for revenge, is soon entangled in the lives not only of David and his wife, but also of David’s former partner, Sancho, and Sancho’s wife. Live Flesh explores love, loss, and suffering with a sober restraint only briefly glimpsed in the director's earlier work. The film tells the story of several characters implicated in each other's fates in ways that are beyond their control.

10. High heels (112 min, 1991)
The family melodrama is built around the fractured relationship between a self-involved mother, a famous torch song singer, and the grown daughter she abandoned as a child, who works as TV newscaster. The daughter has married her mother's ex-lover and has befriended a female impersonator of her mother. Popular songs, always a key element in Almodóvar’s work, are never more present than in this film full of boleros. High Heels also contains an unexpected prison yard dance sequence.
11. Labyrinth of passion (100 min, 1982)

It is a screwball comedy about multiple identities, one of Almodóvar’s favorite subjects. The plot follows the adventures of two sex-crazy characters: Sexilia, an aptly named nymphomaniac, and Riza, the gay son of the leader of a fictional Middle Eastern country, who are meant to be together. The campy roundelay also involves Queti, Sexilia’s “biggest fan,” whose delusional father rapes her. The film caught the spirit of liberation which then ruled in Madrid and it became a cult film. Almodóvar said about the movie: " I like the film even if it could have been better made. The main problem is that the story of the two leads is much less interesting than the stories of all the secondary characters. But precisely because there are so many secondary characters, there's a lot in the film I like.”

12. What have I done to deserve this (101 min, 1984)

This film was inspired by the Spanish black comedies of the late 50s and early 60s. It is the tale of a struggling housewife and her dysfunctional family: her abusive husband, who works as a taxi driver; her oldest son, a heroin dealer; the youngest son, a hustler; and the grandmother who hates the city and just wants to return to her rural village. The theme of the downtrodden housewife coping with the travails of everyday life arises repeatedly in the director's work, as do other issues of female independence and solidarity. The film is also a critique on consumerism and patriarchal culture. In one scene, the housewife trades her own son so she doesn't have to pay a dentist bill, and in another the only witness of a crime is a lizard, aptly named “Money”.

13. Law of desire (102 min, 1986)

The film has an operatically tragic plot line and is one of Almodóvar’s richest and most disturbing movies. The narrative follows three main characters: a gay film director who embarks on a new project; his sister, an actress who used to be his brother (played by Carmen Maura), and a repressed murderously obsessive stalker (played by Antonio Banderas). The film presents a gay love triangle and drew away from most representations of homosexuals in films. These characters are neither coming out nor confront sexual guilt or homophobia; they are already liberated, like the homosexuals in Fassbinder’s films. Almodóvar said about Law of Desire : " It's the key film in my life and career. It deals with my vision of desire, something that's both very hard and very human. By this I mean the absolute necessity of being desired and the fact that in the interplay of desires it's rare that two desires meet and correspond."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Closely Watched Films: Jirí Menzel Retrospective at IFFK-2007

Jirí Menzel, for those who still don’t know, is a maverick Czech director, whose film Closely Watched Trains won the Oscar award for best foreign film in 1967. He was born on February 23, 1938, in Prague. His father Josef Menzel was a writer and journalist. After having formal training in film making and working as assistant director in some films, he began his controversial journey into Eastern-European film history with Crime at a Girls' School in 1965. But it was his next film, Closely Watched Trains, a black comedy against German occupation of Czechoslovakia, which is still regarded as his masterpiece. There followed other films such as Capricious Summer and I Served the King of England, which firmly established Menzel as a modern master.

Most of his films are literary adaptations from various Czech writers, including Bohumil Hrabal and Vladislav Vančura. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he saved his career and probably life by disowning his previous films and making a lifeless propaganda film, Who Seeks the Gold Bottom. But that didn’t hamper his creativity as he found ways to make films of his ‘true’ style later. It is fitting that communists in Kerala honoring Menzel now as an act of accepting the fault of their Soviet counterparts decades ago.

There is every chance that Menzel films will cause the ‘theatre jam’ in this year’s IFFK, just like the films of Kim Ki Duc, Makhmalbaf and Bunuel had done in previous IFFKs. Menzel films have the perfect celluloid combo of those curious bedfellows that festival goers find irresistible: satire and sex. Josef Skvorecký writes in his essay about Menzel that “his entire oeuvre is one continuous eulogy of sex—a subject at best tolerated by Marxist aestheticians in Czechoslovakia”.
Here is the synopsis of the films included in the Menzel retrospective in IFFK 2007 (Courtesy: Yahoomovies, IMDB,, wikipedia).

1. Larks on a String/Skrivánci na niti(Czechoslovakia/Czech/94"/1990)
A story revolving around the relationship between a male laborer and a female prison inmate, both of whom have been interred for compulsory "re-education."

2. Snowdrop Festival (83’/1984)
This movie is based on texts of Bohumil Hrabal, world-known Czech prosaic. It's a story (in a form of a mosaic of short episodes and pictures) about the sadness and happiness of inhabitants of Kersko (Kersko is a small woody area full of cottages and roods). These people are both simple and sensitive, they have their own pleasures (e.g. Leli is a collector of cheap, but inutile things) and the greatest delight of all of them is a hunting. Crude poetics of amateur hunting is screened by dreamy pictures of this area. Menzel mixes sentimental lyricism and rough (but not vulgar!) humor and the outcome is the never-ending landscape of continuous life in the proximate nearness of nature. The performances of actors are brilliant. Both Rudolf Hrusinsky as a Franz and Jaromír Hanzlik as a Leli have nonrecurring charm bottomed on a pain and inebriation. Only the music is not perfect: Jiri Sust usually assembled his film music from his older works and in this movie there are many quotations.

3 My Sweet Little Village (98"/1985)

The movie's main storyline follows the life of Otík, a mentally retarded young man, in a tight-knit village community. The sweet-tempered Otík works as an assistant truck driver with Mr. Pávek, his older colleague and practical-minded neighbor. Pávek's family takes care of Otík, whose parents are dead. However, the two coworkers become at odds over Otík's inability to perform even the simplest tasks. Pávek demands that Otík be transferred to assist another driver, who happens to be a choleric and suspicious man named Turek (Turkish in Czech). Rather than work with Turek, Otík decides to accept an offer of employment in Prague, but finds he does not fit in to the city life. After discovering that the transfer of Otík to Prague was a trick by a crooked politician to get a deal on Otík's large inherited house, Pávek agrees to give Otík a second chance and retrieves him from the city to resume their work together.
The film also follows several subplots, such as the secret romance of Turek's wife with a young vet, the tribulations of an accident-prone but respected doctor who has almost as much trouble with his pessimistic patients as he does with his car, and the desperate deeds of Pávek's teenage son, who has ardent feelings for an attractive local teacher.

4. The End of Old Time (94’/1989)

This bedroom farce takes place at a large country estate in the period between the two world wars. It has been rented by Stoklasa a somewhat uncouth but very wealthy businessman, who hopes to buy it. He and his family and staff have settled down comfortably when they are visited by a nobleman acquaintance, Duke Alexi, whose genial, boisterous ways and penchant for women sets the whole region in an uproar. The hero of this tale is Spera a young man with a similar yearning to bed women. He is constantly frustrated in his attempts by the ever-present duke, who always manages to get to the girls first. While that is going on, the businessman's daughter and the son of people from a neighboring estate have been seeing each other, and are constantly being frustrated by their inability to find a private spot to make love in.

5. Closely Guarded Train/Closely Watched Trains (93’/1966)
An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the film takes place almost entirely at a train station. A young platform guard (Vaclav Neckar) longs for two things -- to lose his virginity and to keep out of World War II. The movie explains to us that the young man's father and grandfather are both eccentrics who also managed to escape the service. The other train station workers are equally bizarre. One man raises birds while another continually seduces young ladies -- in one hysterical sequence, he rubber stamps one girl's naked behind. (He's later prosecuted, not for any sexual misconduct, but for improperly using the German language.) Closely Watched Trains unfolds with the rhythm of a breeze, managing to be both funny and poignant in such an understated way that it doesn't even seem to be trying.

6. Capricious Summer (74’/1968)

A year after his international hit Closely Watched Trains, Czech director Jiri Menzel returned with another lighthearted comedy, Capricious Summer (1967, Facets Video). In it, three middle-aged friends love nothing more than to drink and discuss Deep Thoughts while dangling their toes in a run-down swimming hole. When a cut-rate circus performer (Menzel himself) shows up with a beautiful blonde assistant, the friends' world gets turned upside down. The color photography only accentuates the dreariness of this overcast summer, and the end result is not quite as engaging as Closely Watched Trains, but it certainly proves that Menzel was not a one-hit wonder.

7. I Served the King of England (120’/2006)

Following a long prison sentence, Jan Díte looks back over an eventful life, which has seen him elevate himself from humble waiter to Nazi bridegroom to millionaire criminal. One of the most ambitious and expensive Czech films of all time, this historical epic is the long-awaited result of a protracted struggle for the screen rights to Bohumil Hrabal's famed novel. Jirí Menzel's adaptation is his fourth to be drawn from Hrabal's work (including the superb Closely Observed Trains). Combining sheer visual excess with sardonic commentary upon European mores in the first half of the 20th century, I Served the King of England proves worth the wait. It's a beautifully performed and designed film, shaded with irony and festooned with moments of delightful physical comedy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The namesake – IFFK

It is not clear now that Meera Nair’s film, The Namesake, is part of “World Cinema” section International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) to be held in Thiruvananthapuram from December 7 to 14. But this year, when IFFK is at its 12th avatar, it has a namesake in the parallel universe of film festivals. The first International Film Festival of Kashmir (IFFK) was held in Srinagar this year on April 28-30. The event, held in the northern most state of India, did not attract as much media attention as the other one to be held in one of the southern most states. But from its website, it can be seen that the film festival triggered off passionate debates about the role of art in times of terrorism. Also it is not a high profile festival with international juries and lucrative prizes. But it is a good beginning and hope it will carry on like its elder brother in down south, which has become an annual spiritual centre of film devotees. Let the gods, Kurosawa, Bergman, Buñuel and the like, bless the festivals. Long live IFFKs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Here Comes IFFK

The 12th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) will be held in Thiruvananthapuram (which is its permanent venue) from December 7 to 14. Fourteen films have been selected for the competition section from about 450 entries. Two Malayalam films have been selected: Naalu Pennungal (Four Women), directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan and based on stories by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, and Paradesi, a Mohanlal-starrer, directed by P.T. Kunjhu Mohammed. Lord Let the Devil Steal My Soul, directed by Agnidev Chatterjee, is another Indian film in the competition section. These films will vie with 12 foreign films, whose titles are already catching attention, for the coveted prize, Suvarna Chakoram and a cash prize of Rs. 1,000,000/- . If Teeth of Love (from China) and Sleep-walking Land (from Mozambique) would stand out for the clever wordplay, 10+4 (from Iran) and XXY (from Argentina) would attract the mathematically oriented among the festival-maniacs. But the clincher for the title competition in this IFFK would be the Brazilian film, The Pope’s Toilet [Note: It appears that some technical problems prevented this film from entering IFFK. This film is not in the latest list published by the orgainzers. So Pope's Toilet is shut down for this year's IFFK.] Another attraction of the film festival is a Balkan package (details of the films are not available) and a retrospective of the Czech director Jiří Menzel, who is also the jury chairman.

Meanwhile, the process for delegation registration will start from November 9 at Kalabhavan theatre complex, Vazhuthacaud, Thiruvananthapuram. Delegate pass is available for all for Rs. 200/-. Students need to pay Rs. 150/- only. Officials say that the registration will close on November 25. But if experience of previous IFFKs is anything to go by, one can have the delegate pass until the day before the actual commencement of the festival; maybe even further for the truly smart and the influential. Anyway, don’t take a chance if you are keen on watching the festival. Register early. Please take a stamp-size photograph when you go for registration. Visit for downloading delegate registration form.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A possible shift in nomenclature of Kerala Congress

Kerala Congress splits like ameba does. They split as they grow and grow as they split (K.M. Mani, somewhere in the eighties). Now with the nomination of Mons Joseph into the Kerala ministry by Kerala Congress (J), allegedly through draw of lots, the stage has set for another future split in Kerala Congress. When, rather than if, that happens what would be the name of the new Kerala Congress led by Mons Joseph? It cannot be Kerala Congress (M) (for Mons) or Kerala Congress (J) (for Joseph), because both forms already exist (K.M. Mani and P.J. Joseph versions). So… It could well be Kerala Congress (L) (L for lottery).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A tribute of the inner eye

This one must perhaps be the greatest tribute accorded to K.J. Yesudas, whom most Keralites consider as the greatest singer in the universe. No, I am not talking about what K. Jayakumar, noted lyricist and former IAS officer said (that Yesudas is the personal pride of Keralites that every one of them loves to flaunt to the outside word). No this tribute came long ago from a blind man born in Aligarh. It is from Ravindra Jain, who tuned and wrote many charmingly melodious songs mainly in Hindi. Gori thera gauvu bada pyara, perhaps the best known Hindi song of Yesudas, is created by Ravindra Jain. But this remark even overshadows the song in its stunning originality. He once remarked that if he gets his eye-sight back, the first thing he wants to see is the face of Yesudas.

(Courtesy: information based on wikipedia page for Ravidra Jain and an article by Ravi Menon, Mathrubhoomi weekly, October 3, 2007).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why did Shoaib Akhtar hit Mohammad Asif?

Pakistan cricket: Shoaib Akhtar hit Mohammad Asif in a dressing room spat.

Thought of why? May be it is the scarcity of steroids. When only one dose of steroid remains, what else do you expect Akthar to do?

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

An SMS Q&A on Cricket

Q. On what do the whole India, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, political affiliations and social status, agree wholeheartedly?

A. Dropping Ajit Agarkar from Indian squad.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Colors of Onam

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These are some pictures of Onam celebrations in Njarakkattuvila, a small village near Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala.

An Atha pookkalam. Not a very traditional one. People are getting innovative these days. The makers dubbed this as “inverted triangles”.

A tug-of-war competition (known as vadam vali in Malayalam). Usually this is fought between the married men and the unmarried men. But here, in the absence of battle-ready married men, unmarried men formed two groups and engaged in a spirited contest.

Beginning of the tug-of-war competition.

A bamboo pole used for “Climbing on bamboo” competition (known as Mulayil kayattam in Malayalam). The bamboo pole is about five meters long and is drenched with oil, grease, and egg yolk, making it extremely slippery. One has to climb through this and reach the top to claim the cash award of Rs. 501/-. The flag shown behind is not related to this competition. The small building in the background is the “party office” (office of CPM). Hence the flag.

A man climbing on the bamboo pole.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

VV Clinic: A Hospital with Some Difference

V.V. Clinic is one of the oldest hospitals in Attingal (established in 1973). It is probably the oddest too, perhaps in anywhere in the world. The first thing you notice when you enter the hospital, apart from the elegant gothic doors and windows (which are said to be bought from the remains of an old, destructed castle), is a board that categorically states the conditions (impeccably written twenty-one of them) one must obey while undergoing treatment in that hospital. Here are some samples.

“Narrow-minded people who come here for treatment on their own will and then bargain to reduce the bill amount should not come to this hospital.” “Self-important people and people who had come here for treatment once or more than once should not expect any special considerations.” And the last condition would dispel any doubts an extremely positive person may have of getting a favor: “It will be very helpful if people who cannot obey the above conditions do not come here for treatment.”

You would naturally wonder who the doctor is. You look at the name board and see this name: “Dr. Mohandas. MBBS only”. My mother tells me that previously it was “Dr. Mohandas. very very old MBBS only”. Even the virus or bacteria that cause your illness would be frightened like hell.

Whether the virus is frightened or not, Dr. Mohandas is an expert in quick diagnosis and effective treatment. His method of interacting with patients is also somewhat unique in speed and his economy with words. He first asks simple questions like ‘what is the problem or where is the problem” and then asks some specific questions if he needs some more information. While asking these questions he would be checking the patient with the stethoscope simultaneously. In no time, your prescription is ready along with some other instructions regarding taking what sort of food and bathing. All the details of the disease and symptoms you may have prepared to tell the doctor would be struck in your throat. But make no mistake. The treatment is very effective. It is cost effective too. If the doctor feels the disease is too complex to be treated by him, he will immediately refer the patient for expert treatment to Medical College, Trivandrum, or somewhere else. In short, he seems to treat only those patients whose illness he is confident of treating successfully.

What I find most attractive is the taste of that syrup they give for, well, almost all diseases. It appears like diluted cough syrup. But its taste is quite remarkable. For all the bitter conditions they read when coming to the hospital, people leave with a sense of happiness after tasting that sweet syrup.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

More on the viral fever that grips Kerala

Pakarchapani (known as chikungunya, dengue fever or viral fever in medical parlance) is gaining further momentum in Kerala. Ever since its outbreak about three months ago, it cut a swathe across southern parts of Kerala, affecting thousands of people. In an informative article titled “The long term damage to Kerala’s health” in The Hindu dated 2/8/2007, Mr. Vinod Thomas (Senior Vice President, Independent Evaluation Group, The World Bank) wrote that that chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by a particular breed of mosquitoes. He writes: “These two diseases are transmitted by the aedes species of mosquito, which breeds in small water collections in and around the house. Furthermore, thanks to rubber plantations, parts of Kerala have become endemic to the dengue, as rain water collect in the containers used for harvesting rubber sap.” He advocates for measures to eliminate the mosquito-breeding areas in around the house and in rubber plantations. He also criticizes government for not taking adequate steps for preventing further damage and suggests private-public joint effort to improve health status of Kerala. (Who cares, one may ask. Our ministers, politicians, and media are busy deciphering the phrases uttered by a good-looking guy called Farish Aboobakar in a recent television interview. He is pitted against none other than the chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan.)

The fever affects the joints initially. One person affected by the fever recounted his experience: ‘At first, I felt pain on my right hand, near elbow. Soon it happened on left hand also. Slowly the pain goes up and reaches the shoulders. When it reached the shoulder, body temperature also went up. I felt like I have severe fever. I vomited twice while going to the hospital. There was a large crowd at the hospital. By that time, I felt pain on every joint in my body. After some thirty minutes, finally I was able to see the doctor. I had trouble even getting up and when walked, my legs began to collapse. It was a terrible experience.”

Different hospitals are offering different modes of treatment. Generally there are two types: 1. medicine through an injection (parenterally) and 2. without an injection, i.e., only oral medicine. Consensus among affected people here is that in the first method, the fever will be subdued quickly, but side effects like recurrent joint pain will remain, while in the second method, the fever will be subdued slowly, but will not have any side effects. People will take whatever the doctor prescribes because the pain drives them to a state of utter helplessness.

There are some precautionary medicines available too. One Ayurveda medicine is particularly popular: ‘Viluadi gulika” and “Indukantham kazhayam” of Kottackal Aryavaidysala. One word of caution though. These are very bitter in taste so that some people may find it hard to swallow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A peculiar type of fever is spreading in Kerala. At least one person in a family is affected by this. It is in fact known as ‘Pakarcha pani’, meaning ‘the fever that spreads’. The initial symptoms are pain in the joints, headache and coughing. I have not seen a disease as endemic as this in the last two decades in Kerala. This is said to be caused by a virus, for which human beings seem to be mere hyperlinks. It is merrily clicking on one person to open the disease on another.

The effects of this fever on society are manifold. Apart from the utter discomforts that sometimes escalate to severe pain in the backbone and limbs, financial problems such as loss of the day’s work and salary (for daily laborers) and generally high hospital expenses also stare affected persons. The government claims to have taken several steps to tackle the disease. But only visible steps are increasing the staff strength (in truth only filling the existing vacancies) and issuing stern circulars to hospital administrators. But most affected people approach private hospitals, which are jam-packed. Indian Medical Association (IMA) is conducting special camps to treat this fever. Despite their efforts the disease is spreading like cell phone use in Kerala. The only people who are happy with the outbreak of fever may be the private hospital owners as this has turned out to be a windfall for them.

In Kerala, nothing goes without political ramifications. The Left Front government accuses the former United Front government for ignoring the warning of central agencies about possibilities for the outbreak of fever. The United Front is now in the opposition and they accuse government of inaction. In fact, the opposition had planned a harthal against fever, err inaction of government against fever. But for undisclosed reasons harthal was first postponed and then abandoned. This is one of the rare instances when a harthal call was abandoned in Kerala.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Copa America: Listless Brazil sinks in Mexican waves

A refreshingly efficient Mexico punished a Brazilian team comprising a group of footballers flown in mainly from various parts of Europe who looked as disjointed as NDA allies during Presidential election in India. The score line does not reflect the pathetic performance put up by Brazil. Easily it could have been 3-0 or 4-0, had Mexico taken some of the easy chances in the second half. For Mexico, N Castillo scored the first goal, a well-crafted move resulting in a fine goal. R. Morales then curved a Beckhamesque free-kick into the Brazilian net some minutes later.

In another match today, Chile scored a comeback victory over Ecuador 3-2.
In yesterday’s matches, hosts Venezuela conceded a 2-2 draw to Bolivia after leading 2-1, while Peru thrashed Uruguay 3-0.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Thirteenth Catch Dropped Off Sreesanth

The phrase ‘lost in translation’ is usually associated with poetry. But a recent sports feature in a Malayalam daily called Kerala Kaumudi ( proved that this phrase is very much valid for sports reporting also. The essence of cricket writing, as that of poetry, can be lost in translation. Or take this instance.

On February 22, 2007, Kerala Kaumudi carried a report titled “Perfect Fifteen”. It contained Indian cricket team coach Greg Chappell’s views and comments on each of the fifteen players selected in the Indian team for this year’s World Cup. It was a clever translated re-mix of Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan’s interview with Greg Chappell published on Cricinfo a few days earlier titled “This is the team India wanted” (click here to read the article).
About Sreesanth, among other things, Chappell said in that interview:

“Sree comes from a Plate team. There was one first-class game he played before he played for India where he had 12 catches dropped. Now how many people have to go through that to get into the international team? I don't think there's one bowler in the history of Australian cricket who would have had to go through something like that. Twelve catches in an innings, maybe all in a day. How many opportunities can you create? Selectors can look at the wickets column and see he's not picking but he creates opportunities. When he came into the Mumbai Test (his first series) he had some catches dropped off him. Flintoff was let off twice. We were talking about it and he said, 'I expect to have catches dropped off me when I play for Kerala but didn't expect this when I played for India.’”

The translation that appeared on the online edition ( of the newspaper is shown in the picture.

Its English translation goes something like this:

“Sree should concentrate on his fielding. In one of the first class games, he dropped 12 catches. In his first test, against England, he dropped Andrew Flintoff twice. He remarked about that match later, ‘I expect myself to drop catches when I play for Kerala, but never thought that would occur when I play for India’. And this confidence is Sreesanth’s strength.”

A person who has not read the Cricinfo interview may well think that Sreesanth did actually drop 12 catches in a first class match. But even such a reader would wonder how can Sreesanth get confidence from dropping catches. It can very well be termed as the thirteenth catch dropped off Sreesanth.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Theatre boom in Attingal

Attingal, a poor cousin of the capital city of Kerala, Trivandrum, has suddenly found itself as host of a theatre boom. So far Attingal’s only claim to fame has been a long forgotten Attingal mutiny (back in 1721), which local historians claim to be the first rebellion against the British in Kerala. In the eighties and nineties Attingal was also known as the Mecca of parallel education because of the large number of parallel colleges through which an unbelievably large number of students obtained degrees from University of Kerala.

At the beginning there was Meenambika. I mean a theatre called Meenambika, in which Sathyan and Ms. Kumari entertained the first generation film-goers in Attingal with their merry acting in black and white. Later in the eighties Meenambika would receive a facelift and would be renamed as SR. Two more theatres came in the seventies: Gowri and Hari in which Nazir, Jayan, Sheela, Jayabharathi and the likes splendidly displayed their emotions in Eastman colour much to the delight of the wide-eyed people of pre-television era. Only three theatres in Attingal survived the eighties: Gowri, SR, and a newly launched theatre called RNP. By this time Malayalam cinema field had been curiously watching a two horse race among Malayalam heroes. Mammootty and Mohanlal became heartthrobs of thousands of people in and around Attingal through their exploits on the screens of the above-mentioned theatres. But the crisis in Malayalam film industry during the late nineties badly hit these theatres. Unable to withstand the heat of mounting loss, the owners of SR and RNP fatally decided, like several other owners of B class theatres, to turn to Shakkila movies.

(Any of you who do not know Shakkila should consider yourself unlucky. She is one of the last queens among the endangered species called soft porn actresses. She is a massive collection of white flesh in the true tradition of Anuradha and Disco Shanthi. Nowadays it is hard to find actresses who do exclusively soft porn. Some do it as side business to modeling like Mallika Sherawat and Bipasha Basu, while some truly gifted ones manage to merge their soft porn acting with the acting in mainstream movies, for example Nayanthara.)

After some time Shakkila became too fat to fit into even a 70 mm screen and people who religiously watched her began to understand the virtues of dieting! Shakkila went out of favour with the audience, but the bad name her movies fetched to these theatres remained. Family audience revengefully ignored both these theatres. Slowly the functioning of these theatres reached a tragic climax.

All that seem to be matters of history now. SR has been revived and Baba Kalyani, a Mohanlal film, has been running there. The owners of Gowri theatre, who have a well-established theatre called Vasu in Varkkala, had already started a new theatre with a memorable name, Dreams, with really good facilities. (One can book movie tickets of this theatre online through the website Add to that Thapasya and Paradise, a new generation theatre complex on the shore of Vamanapuram river, one might think this is more than enough for an emerging town. But encouraged both by the success of some recent movies and by the stringent measures from the part of the police to curb CD piracy, more people are coming into theatre business in Attingal. A theatre called Ganga (which is very near to Dreams theatre and to a well-known bar called Ganga) was inaugurated some days back by Varkkala Radhakrishnan MP.

A more spectacular inauguration is on cards for another theatre. Mr. Theepettiyil Rajan, a rich NRI who produced some films like Swapnkkoodu and Sathyam, has bought the old RNP theatre, renovated it, and given it a new name, Vysakh. It is going to be inaugurated on February 3. Mayavi, starring Mammootty, is scheduled to be the first film in Vysakh. The fact that Mr. Rajan himself is the producer of the movie gives credibility to this news. Also, both Mammootty and Mohanlal are rumoured to have agreed to participate in the inaugural ceremony.