Wednesday, December 15, 2010

IFFK 2010 Day 6: Films from Real Life

Films based on real life incidents are hit or miss affairs. Either they click and elevate to the pantheon of good films or they pale and descend to the alley of ordinary films. I watched two films today at IFFK; both are based on real incidents in 1960s. The first film, The Little Rose, a Polish film directed Jan Kidawa-Blonski, has an irresistible blend of love, passion, politics, and intrigue. The second film, My Mongolian Mother is a Chinese film, directed by Ning Cai, is the story of 3000 orphans transported to Mongolia for adoption after the heavy floods in Shanghai in the early 1960s.

The Little Rose

You can approach this film in many angles. It can be the story of a writer-professor who writes and acts against the government. Or it can be the story of a pretty woman caught up between a police officer and the professor. Or it can be a neat portrayal of Poland in 1967. The most striking angle obviously is the plight of the woman, who was asked to spy on the professor by her police man lover. The police officials desperately want to prove that the professor is a Jew, working for Zionists. The film has the Israel-Arab war in 1967 in the backdrop. But the elegant charm of the professor’s attracts the spy and soon she changes sides. This infuriates her original lover, and he becomes blind with rage and jealousy.

The person emerges strongly from the debris of emotions in the end is the woman, Little Rose, which is her code name as a spy. The film shows how she metamorphoses into a mature and strong-willed woman from a passionate damsel.
This is not a typical three-way love story, but a film in which politics, passion, and humour are expertly merged together. Certainly a hit, as far as making films from real life incidents goes.

My Mongolian Mother

The film, set in the vast Mongolian grass lands, tell the story from the angle one of the orphans, who were taken to Mongolia from China in the early 1960s. His mother brought two of the orphans, despite suffering many forms of hardships during the process. When they are ready to stand on their own, their original parents come to take them back. This provides emotional problems for both the Mongolian mother and her adopted children. But she is all poise and grace during such a crunch time.

The film has a magnificent setting and an emotionally gripping story. But somehow the film stops short of creating the magic that good films trigger in the spectators’ mind. I would rate it as a miss, as far as making films from real life incidents goes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IFFK 2010 Day 5: The Kyrgyz Experience

Breaking-up of the former USSR (Soviet Union) was big news here in Kerala back in the eighties. The political result may be good or bad (it certainly depends on how you look at it). But it has certainly a boon for the film lover. The number of good films from the former Soviet republics would emphatically vouch for that.

Today, I saw two more lovely films from Kyrgyzstan, The Light Thief, directed by Aktan Arym Kubat, who also plays the lead role, and  Saratan, directed by Ernest Abdyjaparov. I had already written about The Adopted Son, directed by Aktan Abdikalikov, a delightful neorealist film about the childhood days of an adopted boy. These three directors are pioneering something like a film new wave in the country, as the sheer quality of these films indicate.

The Light Thief

This is the debut movie of the director. It deals with the life of an electrician, who is known as Mr. Light, in a remote village in Kyrgyzstan. He is extremely popular in the village, as he helps the poor by making the electric meter run in the reverse direction, so that the poor people do not need to pay the electricity bill. But soon authorities found this out and terminated his services. But he still has his innovative ideas, such as generating electric power from windmills. He has even constructed a miniature windmill in front of his house. The laidback life in the windy, mountainous village faces a challenge when an ambitious city-born politician tries to procure lands in the village.

Initially, he manages to impress the villagers with his new ideas, especially Mr. Light. But soon, our hero realizes the dangers of siding with the politician and refuses to co-operate with him. Troubles start then for him, leading to a poignant climax. The film touches different shades of human emotions and many of the contemporary issues, such as globalization, political changes, and exploitation. 


It is another film that depicts the lazy, laidback life in Kyrgyz villages. The same locations that appear in The Light Thief appear in this film too: lovely fields, mountains as backdrops, and dusty roads. This is a more like a black comedy than a realistic drama. You find a number of characters with curious habits: a Mayor, whom nobody bribes, a womanizing police man, a thief who commits suicide after losing a duel with the police man, a political rebel who still has faith in Communism, a preacher who tries to spread Christian religion, a mullah who is always late for the morning prayers, a rich man who tries to take control of the land, and a bunch of alcoholic villagers.

The film portrays the life in a village which is crippled by neglect of the state and economic crisis. The Mayor sums up the political situation of the region nicely, when he says, “Earlier people used to depend on the government for money; now government depends on the people for money”.

Monday, December 13, 2010

IFFK 2010 Day 4 – Zephyr: A Gem of a Film

I could watch only one film on the fourth day of IFFK 2010. But it more made up for my day. The film was Zephyr, a Turkish film in the Competition Section, directed by Belma Bas, one of the frontrunners of the new generation Turkish filmmakers. The film has already become a strong contender for the Golden Pheasant award. Wine, an Argentine film in the competition section, too has received rave reviews from the critics and enthusiastic response from the audience.


The film deals with the story of a young girl, named Zephyr, who lives with her grand parents in a hilly Turkish village. Her mother is not living with them, and the girl spends most of the time looking for her mother from a cliff. But the mother does not turn up. The girl becomes more and more unemotional in her attitude towards her friends and even grand parents. Her best companion is the Mother Nature. Life goes along in the beautiful village without much noise. And one day her mother arrives. Joy erupts in their household.

Soon, she hears hushed talks about her mother’s imminent departure. This time, she is leaving for good. Zephyr predictably becomes very annoyed at this. Finally, the day of her mother’s departure arrives. She leaves in the early morning, which is just recovering from the previous night’s mist. Zephyr secretly follows her mother. But soon they meet. It leads to a stunning climax.

The film unfolds in a slow, teasing manner. Each sequence of the film is thoughtfully conceived and beautifully shot, which organically evolves into the awesome finale. A must watch.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

IFFK 2010 – Day 3. A Busy Day, But Good Films

It has been a busy day in which I saw four films. In the end I felt I have been punch-drunk with movies.  Here are my impressions about the movies.

The Adopted Son

First I saw Beshkempir, The Adopted Son, which is a film from Kyrgyzstan, directed by Aktan Abdikalikow. I had read some good reviews about the film from the internet. But I never imagined that it would be such a remarkably good film. It portrays the childhood of an adopted son in a rustic village in Kyrgyzstan. For us, who have grown up watching Pather Paanchali, the atmosphere of the film looks pretty familiar. The difference between this and Indian neorealist is the delightful portrayal of the mischief-filled childhood of the protagonist.

Certified Copy

Next I watched the one of the most eagerly awaited films of this festival, Certified Copy, by the renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Iranian filmmakers have been enjoying special attention in IFFK, right from its start. But this film from Koarostami is a disappointment. It was not a boring film. I expected much better from the Iranian virtuoso. The film unfolds through the conversation between a man and a woman; both are art experts. The conversation starts from the originality in art, then soon drifts to love, marriage troubles, and philosophy. Soon, we find out that they are actually husband and wife. You feel more like reading a novel or an article that watching a movie.

After that I watched two more films in the afternoon: Optical Illusions, a Competition Section film from Chile, directed by Cristian Jimenez, and Just Between Us, a Croatian film directed by Rajko Grlic. Both the films dealt delightfully with unusual subjects. Optical Illusions shows us why the urge for change is an optical illusion. Just Between Us is a celebration of unfaithfulness and sexual desires. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

IFFK 2010 – Day 2

I managed to watch four films in IFFK 2010 today: What You Don’t See, an Austrian film directed by Wolfgang Fischer, Irma Wep, part of the retrospective of the post New Wave French director Olivier Assayas, Domaine, a rather recent French film directed by Patric Chiha, and Songs of Love and Hate, a Swiss film directed by Katalin Godros. The last mentioned is easily the best film of the day, with its deft portrayal of the complex relationships within a family.

What You Don’t See

The films title is perhaps indicative of its content. On the surface, it appears a simple enough film about a teenaged boy coming to a resort with his mother and her lover. He meets another rash youngster and his girl companion. The mother and her lover spend most of their time together, while the boy roams with his new found friends. His mother is somewhat guilty about having an affair and seeks is permission to marry her lover. But nothing goes according to the plan, as his friend kills the beloved pet dog of his mother’s lover. Things, then, take an unexpected twist. As I said, the storyline appears simple enough. But as the film unfolds, the narrative becomes complex. I could not draw much from the film. What you don’t see is what you probably get.

Irma Wep

I decided to watch Irma Wep after seeing the lively documentary Olivier Assayas, This film was made in 1999. It is a satiric film about the pseudo intellectualism in French film industry, and provides a fly-on-the-wall narration of the events surrounding the remake of a French horror film, Irma Wep. An actress from Hong Kong, known for her performances in stunt movies, reaches Paris to take the lead role of the movie. She is confronted with an ensemble of typical film folks: busy executives, hopelessly pretentious directors, and quarrelling crew members.

The film is fun to watch, but it did not live up to my expectations, which had been fuelled rather irrationally by yesterday’s documentary. Before the screening of the movie, Beena Paul, creative director of the festival, introduced Olivier Assayas to the audience. He spoke a few words too.

Songs of Love and Hate

It is a family drama of a different kind that narrates the perils of growing up. Set in a farming village, the film deals with the story of Rico, a wine yard farmer, his wife, and their two daughters. His elder daughter, Lilly, has an affair with a neighbourhood boy. Rico’s approach towards his daughter changes when he learns about her affair (or possibly after he saw her naked body accidentally). This creates reverberations in the whole family. Lilly’s attitude towards life, especially towards her parents changes. His wife too understands the changes in him. Tension grips the relationship within the family members.

The film portrays the dark sides of human psyche and sexuality (as the director said, apologetically in fact, before the screening). But she deserves praise for the deft handling of such a delicate subject. A good movie, the best so far for me in this year’s IFFK.

Friday, December 10, 2010

IFFK Day 1: Two Films that Looked like Documentaries and a Documentary that Looked like a Film

The first day at IFFK 2010 started, as is the precedent, at Kalabhavan at 9 AM. For a change, the first screening this year comprised two films: Cameroon Love Letter, directed by Khavn De La Cruz, and Unreal Forest, directed by Jakrawal Nilthamrong. Both the films are part of Forget Africa package of Rotterdam Film Festival. And both the films are bold experiments on film craft, but are unkind to a casual viewer, as the directors’ names are to the tongue. Still, each of these films is memorable in its own unique way and is worthy first screenings of the latest edition of IFFK.

Unreal Forest

The film meticulously plays the celluloid double card trick –a film within a film – that no longer amuses seasoned film watchers. But it serves the purpose for the director, as it neatly conveys the problems faced by filmmakers in Africa and the plight of the poor. The first part is the documentary-like unfolding of making of a film and the second part is the film itself.

Cameroon Love Letter

The second film of the screening was even more unconventional. The film was made from documentary footages from Cameroon. But it deals with a poignant tale of break-up and love between two metro-sexuals. There is no obvious link between the visuals and the narration. But the cocktail of haunting music, the scathing, yet lyrical parting letter written by the woman protagonist (who never comes on the screen, but her letter appears as subtitles on various parts), and the monologue by the protagonist of the movie creates an absorbingly unique ambience on the screen.

A majority of the viewers, it seemed, could not stand two stylistically path-breaking films at one go. The screening started house-full. But when it ended after more than two hours, there were only a handful of spectators.

HHH- A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Later, I watched HHH- A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, directed by Olivier Assayas, at Kalabhavan. My original idea was to see Black and White, a Turkish film that is tipped by the local media as one of the must-watch films of this festival. But a last minute change in schedule by the organizers spoiled the plan. Most people only realized it is a documentary only when they entered the cinema hall. No more, some of them pleaded, especially after the first two films. But the documentary turned out to be livelier than the films that preceded it.

This is the director’s tribute to the prominent Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The determination and strong character of the subject shone throughout the documentary. Sequences of the some of his films too are nicely weaved into the narrative. There is not even a single dull moment in the movie, thanks mainly to the documentary-maker’s craft and partly also due to the dynamic personality of its subject.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. Hopefully, it will be even better than this.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

IFFK 2010 Starts Tomorrow

All set for a grand start to the fifteenth edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala, IFFK 2010. It has been raining heavily (cats, dogs, and other animals) in Thiruvananthapuram city over the last week. Even the rain stopped today as if to welcome the festival.

For many film lovers in Kerala, an annual trip to Thiruvananthapuram in the second week of December has become a kind of an addictive cinematic pilgrimage. This year too a number of fascinating films are on offer in the IFFK. Complete details regarding the films and schedules have been published in the official website of the festival.

A welcome change is the launch of signature film well before the first screening. It is created by some creative souls in Toonz Animation, Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram. It is available in Youtube.