Tuesday, December 13, 2011

IFFK 2011 – Day 5

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

The Cat Vanishes

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

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

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


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

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

The Colours of the Mountains

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

IFFK 2011 Day 3

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


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

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

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

Come As You Are

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

Two Escobars

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

IFFK 2011 - Day 2 Night

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

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

IFFK 2011 - Day 2 Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 09, 2011

IFFK 2011 Day 1 Night

The last film I watched today is Circus Columbia, directed by Danis Tanovic. His first film, No Man's Land, was one of the trend-setting Balkan war films. This is another of that genre. It is the story of a Bosnian expat, who was forced to flee the country by the communist regime, coming back to his native village to settle some old scores: both personal and political.

Set in the back drop of a looming civil war, the film offers delightful glimpses of life in Balkan villages. It is a kind of guided tour through humor, satire, love, adolescence life, and a bit of incest. One problem with the film is that it tends to focus more on personal lives than on the bigger political picture. If you are familiar with the Balkan war films, chances are that you will not be much impressed.

Part of the reason why this film did not appear as appealing as some of the reviews suggested would be the fact that I watched this movie after the splendidly hilarious Two Half Times in Hell. Easily the best movie I have watched which has a sport as a central theme.

Tomorrow is going to be a day with the masters: L'argent by Robert Bresson, Eternity and a Day by Theodoros Angelopoulos, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Faust by Aleksander Sokurov.

IFFK 2011 - Day 1 Afternoon

IFFK 2011 started with less than expected crowd today. Theaters have not been as jam-packed as organizers said they would be. The next two days are holidays and are expected to bring in an avalanche of film lovers.

Watched two films today. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, a collection of three short films of the same theme by three directors (Kaz Cai, Wang Jing, Anocha Auwichakornpong). Each short film addresses a grand theme: women and their quest for love. It narrates a day in the life of three women. Incidentally, the day after Benazil Bhuto was asassinated. It has a grand theme. But the film fails to gel together as a great movie.

Next I saw Two Half Times in Hell - a brilliant Hungarian film, by Zoltan Fabri. It is the first film of the Kicking Soccer package in this year's IFFK. The film was released in 1963 and is in black and white. It is a black comedy set in the backdrop the Second World War and the invasion of Hungary by the Nazis. It portrays the events unfolded in a prisoner camp when a football match between Hungary and the 'official' Germany is proposed and then held. The film scathingly reveals the meaninglessness of many narrow beliefs - be it patriotism, worship of leaders, and, ironically, love of soccer.

Next I am going to watch Circus Columbia in Remya. More about it later.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

IFFK 2011 Is Here

The first signs of IFFK 2011 have appeared in various media today. Online registration has been started, films in competition section announced, and delegate fee hiked. It was Rs. 300/- last time around, now it is Rs. 500/-. About 66% hike. Might be due to the increase in petroleum products. This certainly will not deter many from participating in a film festival which has almost become an annual habit for filmbuffs in Kerala.