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."