Friday, December 18, 2009
It is a typical Iranian film, much like the films of, say, Majid Majidi. The film boasts of many familiar Iranian qualities: a simple theme, straightforward and flawless narration, and characters grappling with their inherent weaknesses and surviving with their inherent strengths.
The main character of the film is the owner of a hall, which is used for hosting marriage functions and functions related to funerals. The opening scenes establish that he is having psychiatric problems, as they are getting orders of funeral functions only. The psychiatrist advises him to sell the hall. The next day one person comes along with a real estate agent to have a look at the hall. The owner then announces the staff that he would be selling the hall within 20 days. The rest of the story is about how the decision affects the staff members, five of them, and how they react to it.
This is a black comedy by the renowned Mexican director Arturo Ripstein. He made the film to look like a celluloid spoof of epic Hollywood films. The film narrates the events in the camp of a Christian sect, called New Jerusalem. The sect is headed by a virgin who is to bear the god’s son. The present head is an old woman who has many health issues. Troubles start when she selects a young new comer as her successor. She starts to give strange orders.
The film’s objects of sarcasm are wide ranged: from Christian beliefs to Hollywood epic films. The most memorable scene of the movie is undoubtedly its climax.
Man by the Shore
This is a beautifully conceived political movie – the story is told the memories of a girl, whose parents went missing after a coup in Haiti. I have to say that this is a fitting finale to any film festival. The film has many things in common with the first film I watched in this festival: The Last Supper. Both show fights of ordinary people against the mighty.
Details of Winners
The Golden Crow Pheasant Award (Suvarnachakoram): About Elly and Jarmal
The Silver Crow Pheasant Award (Rajata Chakoram): My Secret Skys (a South African film directed by Madoda Ncayiyana)
The best director: Nosir Siadov (director of True Noon, a
Audience award for the best film: True Noon
FIPRESCI award for the best film: A Fly in the Ashes (an Argentine film directed by Gabriela David)
NETPAC award for the best Asian Film: Jarmal
The best debut Indian Film: Harichandra Factory (directed by Paresh Mokashi)
NETPAC award for the best Malayalam Film: Kerala Café (a film comprising 10 short films; produced by Ranjith)
FIPRESCI award for the best Malayalam Film: Patham Nilayile Theevandi (directed by Joshy Mathew)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
IFFK 2009 - Day 6
I watched three films today. I had planned to watch four films. However, I could not watch any of those four films because of a seemingly endless traffic jam in Thiruvananthapuram city. In the end, I managed to watch Ploy (an Indonesian film by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang), Once Upon A Time (an Italian film by Francesco Rosi), and About Elly (an Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi).
Ploy is a kind of not-so-good not-so-bad film. It deals with a decaying marriage life, or what is famously knows as the seven year itch. The protagonists, a man who runs a restaurant in
The wife leaves the room afterwards and ends up being drugged and raped. In some separate and slightly unrelated sequences, the bartender and cleaning girl of the hotel makes love in another room. The only thing that links the detailed love-making scenes with the main plot is Ploy’s reference to a dream she had in which she sees the same people making love.
One good thing about the film is what can be called visual humor. Some unusual sequences and camera angles create subtle humor without the help of any action or any dialogues.
The film started 15 minutes late, as the director, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, could not reach the venue in time. In the end, screening started without the director making his customary introductory speech. It only helped in spoiling the film-watching plans of many delegates.
Once Upon A Time
This techni-color movie starring Omar Sharif and Sophia Loren is indisputably the worst movie I have watched in this festival. Some of the older folks may have got a feeling of déjà vu and nostalgic memories by seeing Sophia Loren. However, the response of the delegates gave the impression that most of them were plainly bored by the film.
This is a competition section film. I won’t be surprised if it wins the award (though I pray that Soofi Paranjha Katha or Madhyavenal win the award). It is a deftly woven film which reflects many complex issues of life and human psyche by narrating some simple things.
The plot can be described as follows. A group of young couple go for a picnic in a seaside town. One odd person in the group is Elly, the nursery teacher of the daughter of one of the couples. The first half shows typical incidents of a picnic. The mood of the film changes when a young boy of the group is trapped in the waves. The grown-ups somehow rescue the boy, but then they notice that Elly is missing. They search frantically for her, but to no avail.
However, the incident slowly reveals many uncomfortable issues between the couples. Soon, the whole group gets entangled in a web of lies. What was seen in the first half of the movie as pleasant interpersonal relationships start getting bitter. Towards the end of the movie, Elly’s fiancée too enters the fray, complicating things further.
The director, Asghar Farhadi, remains impressively non-judgmental and impassive in the treatment. The viewers feel like peeling an onion called life. The outer layers seem bright and easy. However, as one goes inwards, the texture and complexion of the layers change, and the characters appear unrecognizable from the ones shown in the first half of the movie.
The media coverage and the coverage on bloggosphere about IFFK have been subdued, compared to the previous years’. Two notable blogs about IFFK are dear cinema and passion for cinema. The writers are knowledgeable, passionate about films, and write seriously well. IFFK this time has an official blog too. Kanikonna, a Malayalam website, too publish stories occasionally. It contains many interesting posts. Delegates and guests can contribute to the blog by sending their posts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I could watch only two films today. Elevator to the Gallows by Louis Malle and Jermal, an Indonesian film directed by Ravi L. Bharwani and Rayya Makarim.
Elevator to the Gallows
This is a well-known and widely-appreciated classic, which should have used up reams of newsprint and megabytes of internet server space by now. It was vintage New Wave stuff: emptiness of urban life and wickedness of fate, all shown through a fast narrative laced with subtle humor. However, watching this film confirmed one doubt that I had for some time. French New Wave films are probably the first of the classic films that would succumb to the test of time.
Jermal is one of the Competition Section films of IFFK 2009. The film is set on a magnificent backdrop. Almost the entire film is shot in a fishing platform (Jermal) in the middle of a sea.
The film starts with the shots of a boy (Jaya) being taken to the Jermal. There he was introduced to his father Johar, who refuses to accept him. Jaya finds the life in the Jermal difficult as the senior boys in the group subject him to cruel ragging. The back-breaking work in the Jermal too takes a toll on him.
The narrative flows through two streams. The first is the relationship between Jaya and his father. The second is how Jaya rebels against the tyranny of the leader of the boys. As the life in Jermal moves on, Jaya gets new friends, most of whom are attracted towards him because of his ability to write. His new found confidence reflects in the arrogant attitude towards his father. However, his father’s mind travels in the reverse direction. The more he sees his son, the more his stubbornness towards his son melts.
By the time Johar realizes the extent of his paternal affection, Jaya had become an entirely different personality. He even beats up the hooligan leader. It was then that Johar decides to tell his son why he abandoned his wife and why he leads a secret life of exile in the Jermal.
This is a realistically shot and well-crafted film, which for the most part, oscillates between the seriousness of a difficult father-son relationship and a more mirthful world of some rough boys and their tricks.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I saw two films today in IFFK 2009: Anti Christ and Dream. Considering the frantic rush for these two films, watching them in itself should be considered as an achievement. Both films were good and memorable in their own unique way.
Anti Christ: Passion, Guilt and Crime
This is a gruesome, yet daring story of a couple, whose only toddler son falls down through the window and crashes to death, while they are passionately engaging in sexual intercourse. The opening sequence of the movie dramatically shows this incident. Thereafter, the movie is divided into four segments: grief, pain, despair, and three beggars.
The guilty conscious soon catches up with the wife (a later scene shows that she has actually seen the child about to fall, but has not done anything in her excited state of orgasm) and starts playing mental tricks. The husband is a therapist and soon takes the responsibility of treating her mental problems.
They move to an isolated cabin in a forest, where the entire family spent some days in the previous year. There, the activities grow more grotesque. Soon, her mental condition improves (she herself proclaims in one scene that she has come out of the problem); however, the husband starts to have problems. The animals, insects, plants, and all around him begin to frighten him.
As he tries to figure out the meaning of the notes that she wrote during their previous stay, she attacks him with a piece of wood. What happens later is … well, I am not spoiling it. It depends on whether you watch a Catholic or Protestant version of the movie. Apparently, IFFK received a protestant version. In a nut shell, she destroys the organs that were the root cause of the child’s death.
This is a difficult movie to watch. Even the dialogues (which is in English and hence no subtitles) is not very clear in some scenes. However, visuals are splendid and convey the mental turbulences of the actors. I would have watched the film again, if not for those gruesome scenes. Maybe, when or if computers take over, this might well be the only film they preserve.
A large number of people assembled at Kripa Theater to watch the movie, despite this being the second screening. Some newspaper reports about the explicit sex scenes in the movie obviously catalyzed spectator interests.
Dream: Whose Dream Is Your Life
It has been established today once and for all: Kim Ki-Duc is the best-loved and most sought-after director in IFFK. There were long queues in front of Dhanya-Remya theater complex that prompted security guards to wonder why all these people want to see this film. And when the name Kim Ki-Duc appeared on the screen, there were thunderous applause and cheers from the viewers.
The screening of the film, which was to be started on 11.45, started 15 minutes late. The fact that the previous screening at Dhanya concluded only on 11.35 complicates the matters further. After a determined effort in the heavy rush, I managed to get into the theatre. However, once the film started, all the sufferings were easily forgotten.
The film has a bewitching story line. A man sees dreams and a woman enacts the dreams in her sleepwalking self. This leads to some complex, occasionally humorous, and almost always beautiful sequences. The opening scenes establish this curious link between the protagonists. The film goes on to narrate how it changes their lives.
Verdict: A simple and bright movie that deals with some complex issues surrounding human psyche.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I saw two films today: Sweet Rush by the acclaimed Polish director Adrezej Wajda and Bad Day to Go Fishing by the Uruguayan director Alvaro Brechner. Both films failed to match with the standard of the movies of the previous two days.
Poor planning forced me to miss one film. The first film, Sweet Rush, at Remya theatre, started at 10 am and finished around 11.30. It left me with only one choice in the second screening time segment – Nothing Personal (a Dutch film directed by Urszula Antoniak) at the same theatre. However, there was a huge rush for this movie and I could not even enter into the theater. Rumor has it that a particularly attractive poster of Nothing Personal, with a naked lady lying in a bed, caused this unprecedented rush.
Sweet rush is a “grass-like plant growing in wet places and having cylindrical often hollow stems”. The movie is based on a novel, in which the plant is an indicator of disasters. The movie has a two-layered structure. The first narrative structure is an actress’s monologues about her lover’s disease and about the problems about making a movie called Sweet Rush by Adrezej Wajda. The second narrative shows the movie in which she is acting. At one point towards the climax, both narratives intercept.
The director has shown deft craftsmanship in intercepting the two narratives. However, there is no point in hailing the narrative skills of a master like Wajda. The whole world knows it. Despite the narrative brilliance, the movie fails to engage the viewers.
One can find some of usual themes of Wajda’s films here also: The Second World War, existential questions, and personal grief and sorrows. Still, the lengthy single frame shots of the heroine’s monologue are monotonous and painstakingly slow. One feels like listening to an audio novel at times.
Bad Day to Go Fishing
Well, this is not boring or slow-paced. This is a happy film that deals with the life of an exiled wrestler and his cunning agent. The film opens with an ambulance, taking a body of an unconscious man to a hospital. The rest of the film actually reveals who is that unconscious person and how he ends up in the hospital bed.
The agent makes a living out of taking the “world champion” to various villages in
In this particular village, they run into problems. The arranged opponent was arrested after drunken brawl in a bar. In addition, a strong-willed woman comes on behalf of her strong-bodied fiancée to challenge the world champion. The circumstances force them to accept the challenge. Despite the determined efforts from the agent, the challenger and the fiancée refuse to accept his terms. The agent tries to flee on the previous day; however, world champion intimidates him to stay on. Eventually the fight takes place and one of them ended up in the hospital bed. Well, I am not spoiling the climax by saying who it is.
This is a well-made film, suitable more for commercial box offices than festival circuits.
No Monday morning blues
Tomorrow is going to be a big day (for once, I am eagerly waiting for a Monday). I have reserved seats for Anti Christ by Lars Von Trier and Dream by Kim Ki-Duk. I think I will have to miss Puska's
How to book balcony seats through sms
This is simple enough. You need to send an sms to 9446301234. The sms should have the following format: Reg. no.[space]password[space]date[space]theater[space]film code.
Although it looks like a programming code, it is really simple. One can get the reg. no. and password from the delegate pass. Date refers to the day (that is, 14, 15, 16 etc.). Type the exact spellings of theatre and film code from the IFFK schedule. An ideal sms would look like this: 1160 PSUB7X3 15 KAIRALI CS05
Well, this much you get from one of the umpteen sms’s sent by TM-IFFK. This is only the theory part. Practical is somewhat more difficult. Before going to the practical, one must learn a bit more theoretical aspects.
The SMS reservation facility for a particular film starts two days before the date of screening of the film. Say, if the film is to be screened on 16th, the sms reservation facility starts on – yes, you guessed it right – 14th (remember the Godard’s equation: cinema = truth x 24 frames/sec). The reservation facility starts around 10’o clock in the morning.
The early birds do not have to sit in the front row and crane their necks. Nor they have to stand in random queues as shown in the picture on the left. However, one has to be fully prepared to tackle the situation. Practice the following tips and you can walk into the balcony with your head held high when others quarrel and plead with the hapless security guards at the entrance.
1. Be prepared for balcony reservation two days in advance. That is, if you plan to book tickets on 16th, carry out all these activities on or before the morning of 14th.
2. Type your password and user name on the messaging window of your mobile phone. Type this number on the “To:” box: 9446301234. Then save the message as draft.
3. I assume that you have done the research about the movies (Suggested references: IFFK schedule, google, wikipedia, and all that jazz) and have finalized the films that you are going to watch on a particular day. Find the draft message you have saved in your phone and open it in the edit window. Type date, theater, and film code so that the message has this format: 1160 PSUB7X3 15 KAIRALI CS05. Save a message for each reservation that you want to make. This is easy. Change only theater and the film code of the original message and save it as a different message.
4. Around 9’o clock or a little later, you will receive a message from TM-IFFK informing that the reservation facility for a particular day (say 16th) has just been opened. Act on war footing now. You can forget any other job (including watching movies!) for some seconds. Straight away take the saved draft messages and send them one by one as soon as possible.
5. Make sure that you receive a confirmation from TM-IFFK (this may take up to 30 minutes).
6. Lastly and most importantly, make sure that you reach the venue 10-15 minutes before the screening and show your card to the security personnel. Otherwise, you will have to muscle your way through a crowd who are waiting snatch up the unoccupied seats in the balcony.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
True Noon, a Tajikistan Film directed by Nosir Siadov, is a delightful, yet poignant film about how people’s life change by the interference of the governments. A number of films have dealt with this theme. Still, this film is fresh and beautifully shot.
The story happens in a mountainous border village between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet states, which have become independent states after the fall of communism. The film develops around Kiril, an old supervisor of the weather observatory in the town, and his beautiful apprentice, Niloufar. He wants to leave to his Moscow to be with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He wants to hand over the duties to Niloufar, but there are many hurdles. She is about to be get married. They have to persuade the husband and other relatives about sending her to work after marriage. In addition, she does not have a formal certificate.
All such problems go to backstage as the army makes its appearance on the town. The army personnel put a barbed wire fence right across the village. Schools, hospitals, and many other institutions are on one side and many people are stranded on the other. It leads to some funny scenes, where a teacher stands and teaches on the one side of the fence and students sit and learn the other side.
Kiril is forced to cut the barbed wire, when the Niloufar’s mother feels pregnancy pain (her husband is determined to get a son). However, sensing this, the army men put mines on the path. The situation becomes dangerous as the marriage date of Niloufar nears and leads to a tense climax.
True Noon reminds one of a famous short story in Malayalam: Nalam Lokam (The Fourth World) written by NS Madhavan. It deals with the problems take place in a space shuttle, jointly launched by India and the then USSR, after the fall of the Soviet Republic. But the film is not as satiric as the story.
Reservation: Official versus People’s
More people arrived at IFFK 2009 on the second day. At least in some places, tempers started to fray. People are still to come into terms with the advanced reservation facility. In most places, not all people who reserve seats in the balcony bother to turn up. This led to many vacant seats in balcony; that too, when unreserved people are sitting in the front row, craning their necks upwards to watch the movie.
People soon learnt about this aspect somehow. Today before the screening of True Noon, some people demanded entry into the balcony even though they do not have a reservation. They actually tried to force their way in. It led to some angry arguments between the staff and the delegates. Perhaps, it is a fitting introduction to a film that deals with the trouble that an official decision brings to people!
However, the problems here are absolutely not the fault of the organizers. They have done well to provide even a simple sms reservation facility. Perhaps, they should start a cancellation facility too. I think they should also ban further reservation option of those people (at least a ban of one or two days) who do not turn up after reserving a balcony seat.
Perhaps it is the high expectation. I must say that Broken Embraces does not create the same kind of magic that some of the previous films of Almodovar created in previous IFFKs. By no means is this an ordinary film. Everything that we have seen from Almodovar is there; but only those things, not anything beyond. We are becoming too familiar with the celluloid phenomena of the so-called planet Pedro.
The story revolves around a writer-director who has become blind and, in his own words, “has become his pseudonym”. As we watch the film, the gripping story of how he has become blind and his pseudonym unravels. It would be an injustice if it is reduced it to the storyline. (Interested people may check the Wikipedia article here). I have to say that the story does not have the sharpness or complexity of some his previous films. However, there are some typical Almodovar moments in the movie: beautiful frames, a natural flow of sequences that only the masters’ films possess, characters with strange and intertwined history,another film within the film, and sharp and witty dialogues.
Judging by the response of the audience, soon we may witness the formation of an Almodovar fans association in Thiruvananthapuram. There were thunderous clapping when his name appeared on the screen and when particularly spectacularly scenes appeared on the screen. Penelope Cruz too seems to have her own share of admirers as her introduction too was received in the manner usually reserved superstars in Malayalam and Tamil.
Next I am going to Kairali for watching my first Competition Section film in this year’s IFFK: True Noon, a Tajikistan film directed by Nosir Siadov.
I watched two films today so far. The Other Bank by George Ovashvili and Tales from the Golden Age by Cristian Mungiu, Loana Maria Uricaru, and Hanno Höfer.
The Other Bank is a film about a 12-year old boy, a refugee in Georgia, who goes in search of his father to forbidden territories. The film portrays his life, his journey, the incidents during the journey, and the life in the warring regions of erstwhile Soviet Union. It is an engaging film, with fantastic performance from the boy who plays the lead role.
The second film, Tales From The Golden Age, is a dig at the Communist-ruled Romania in 1980s. It is a laugh riot – satire at its best. The film comprises five short films. The best among them is the one about the official inspection in a village. Any Keralite who has seen the organizing of government official functions in Kerala can easily relate with most of the incidents in the short movie. The one about official party photographer is also hilarious. Others are too are filled with sarcastic moments about the party and life in general.
Now, I am going dash off to Kripa to watch Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar. I have reserved tickets. Hope I get a seat!
Friday, December 11, 2009
I had planned to watch Adrezej Wajda’s Sweet Rush, as I always trust the old guard than the flashy new comers (as in Cricket). However, I changed my plan in the last minute and went to watch Land of Scarecrows, a South Korean film directed by Gyeong-tae Roh. It is a remarkable film in that it is a rare blend of cinematic beauty and social criticism and yet provides insights into human nature and the environmental concerns.
Most of the events take place in two places, in Philippines and Korea, which is a bit hard to figure out in the initial stages. However, the picture post card beauty of the still frames (the camera never seems to move) captivate the viewers. Slowly, the main characters emerge: Jang, who feel she has become a man after the wet land near her home was filled with soil: Rain, a Philippino girl who wanted to marry a Korean and whom Jang marries in a made to order marriage ceremony in an obscure town in Phillippines, and Loi Tan, who is in search of his adopted Philippine father.
In some comic scenes, which break the monotony of charming visuals, Rain discovers that her husband is actually a woman. Then she meets Loi and there starts a silence romance.
The story of the characters is a secondary theme in the movie. The main theme is captured in an expletive-filled sermon of a spiritual guru, whom Jang consults to find a cure for her trans-gender problem. He says the cause of all the problems these days is “putting human’s soul in monkeys’ in humans, …. Carrot’s in onion, and onion’s in carrot”. One cannot agree more.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I watched two films so far today. The Last Supper, by the Cuban director Tomas Gutierrez Alea, turned out to be a great film. It is satirical, philosophical, and even has a revolutionary flair.
The story happens in in the 18th century, in a sugar mill in Cuba. A large number African American slaves are made to work in the mill like, well, slaves. The owner of the mill, a white, pious Christian, is concerned about the religious beliefs of the slaves. He gives them a supper, much like the original Last Supper. The film is often hilarious, and clinically exposes the double standards of the so-called religious capitalists. Perhaps, a politically correct film from Cuba, but well-made one.
The second film, Eastern Plays, by the Bulgarian director, Kamen Kalev, was not so impressive. It provides a kind of strange viewing experience. Every time you tend to feel bored with the sequences the director comes up with a gem, a great dialogue, a stunning visual, or an unexpected incident.
The protagonists are a wood carver and his jobless younger brother. The film deals mainly with the insecurities and hopelessness of the elder brother. The film moves at a slow pace, sometimes, too slow. However, brilliant dialogues and visuals that capture the mood of the protagonist keep the viewers enthralled.
The signature film has become one of the hotly anticipated items in IFFK. This year's turns out to be cool. Perhaps the best signature film seen in recent times at IFFK. Sanju Surendran is the man who seems to have done the impossible: satisfying almost all delegates.
All these can serve only as a good appetizer. The main course starts tomorrow. The list of films is mouthwatering. Most of the usual IFFK suspects are there: Almodovar, Kim Ki-Duk, Zanussi, Godard. The Makhmalbaf family seems to be the only notable absentees.
As always, the film screening of IFFK starts at 9 am in Kalabhavan. This time the unofficial opening movie is The Last Supper by the Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea. The official inaugural movie is A Step into the Darkness, a Turkish film directed by Atil Inaç, which will be shown at Nishagandhi Open Air Auditorium at 6.15 pm. In between these two films, several other films are going to be screened tomorrow.
I am finding it difficult to finalize tomorrow’s schedule. The first one is easy as there are no other shows in the 9’o clock segment. After that, I think, I will watch Eastern Plays, a Bulgarian film directed by Kamen Kalev, though there are other potentially good catches, such as 7 Years (the debut film of the French director Jean-Pascal Hattu) and
I am planning to watch Sweet Rush by Adrezej Wajda in the afternoon, who just edges out another veteran of the previous generation François Truffaut (whose Jules and Jim will be shown at the same time segment). Two other notable films in the afternoon session are the South Korean film Land of Scarecrows (by Gyeong-tae Roh) and the Iranian film Be Calm & Count to 7 (by Ramtin Lavafipour).
Enough for a curtain raiser. Caution: More to follow after watching the movies.