Monday, December 09, 2013

IFFK 2013 – Day 4

Errata, the first film I watched today in IFFK 2013, is a highly stylized non-linear thriller. The second film, When evening falls in Bucharest or metabolism, is basically a dialogue about the nuances of filmmaking. And then I saw a 1953 Jean Renoir film, French Cancan.


The film, directed by Iván Vescovo, is not your typical thriller. It starts with the hero, Ulises, finding one fine morning that his girlfriend Alma has vanished. His search for her leads to her sister and then to a bookstore which houses a rare original copy of a famous book written by Jorge Luis Borges. The book is highly sought after because it contains errata – a passage written by somebody else, not by Borges. During the search, he learns more about the book and about Alma. He meets her sister and soon he gets a phone call demanding ransom to release Alma. How does he find money to release his lover? Well, in case you have not guessed, by stealing the errata book.

The director adopts a zig-zag narration. While it is fast-paced and stylishly shot, it is kind of a random access movie. Time moves forth and back. Memories appear suddenly and realizations dawn belatedly. And there is a dream sequence within a dream, like the Borges stories. The film itself transforms into a kind of errata.

When evening falls in Bucharest or metabolism

Corneliu Porumboiu – of Police, Adjective fame – deals with nuances of film making. In that sense, this is a movie for moviemakers. The movie deals with many things, including the meaning of on-screen behavior and director’s and artist’s struggle to come up with the best scenes. Dialogues on these subjects between a director and his lead actress form the bulk of the movie. It is more like reading the transcript of a dialogue than a movie with twists and turns.

French Cancan

When it was released in 1953, Godard described the movie thus: “Every scene is a cartoon in movement”. It was one of the popular color movies of that generation. Unfortunately, it has not passed the biggest test of any art – test of time. Suffice to say that this is not the best of Renoir movies.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

IFFK 2013 – Day 3

It turned out to be a Super Sunday, to borrow a quote from the football telecast. I had planned to watch some other movies. But I ended up watching Rocket, Jonathas’ Forest and Berlin -07. No complaints, though. Each of these films was dissimilar from the others in terms of treatment and theme. Yet, all these had one common factor: they were the results of high-quality film-making.


What is written in Rotten Tomatoes about Rocket is true: If this movie does not move your heart, you’re not human. This is an ebulliently charming movie that tells the story of a young boy named Ahlo. He was a twin who supposedly brings bad luck to the others near him, as per the village belief. As if to validate the village myth, his moth dies in an accident, and he becomes cause of many other accidents. He is an energetic and tireless boy bubbling with ideas and drive.

The story starts when his family was forced to abandon their house and fields and relocate to another village, because of the construction of a new dam. In the new location, which is more like a refugee camp than a promised land, our hero finds enough space to cause all kinds of mischief in the company of a girl called Kia. When his mischief crosses the line, they were ousted from the camp. They ended up in a village which has an abundance of abandoned bombs and missiles. They reach there just in time for a Rocket festival, which the village authorities conduct to bring rain. The effervescent – decides to participate in the dangerous contest.

The summing up of the story cannot convey the magic on the screen. There is never a dull moment in the movie, yet it portrays the agony and helplessness of the ordinary folks in a telling way. The director has managed to find the celluloid alchemy for blending satire, fun and sentiments in right proportion. All the actors have given sensational performance too.

Jonathas’ Forest

This is an art house drama about the Amazon forests as well as about a young boy living nearby. He lives with his agricultural family and sells the farm proceeds to tourists. One day he goes to an impromptu camp along his brother and a beautiful Ukraine-born American tourist. He promises to bring her wild passion fruit and goes into the forest in search of the fruit. And he loses the way and gets sucked into the dense forests of Amazon.

Berlin -07

The film narrates the story of two Iraqi families who try to migrate to Germany illegally, just as the American occupation begins in Iraq. They managed to reach Berlin clandestinely. But they face all kinds of troubles in a foreign country for obtaining residence permit and citizenship. The film powerfully captures the agony and helplessness of ordinary people caught in the mire of global politics.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

IFFK 2013 Day 2

Saw four films today in the IFFK 2013: No Fear, No Die (a French film directed by Claire Denis), The Missing Picture (a Cambodian film, directed by Rithy Panh), An Actor's Revenge (in the Samurai films category) and The battle of Tabato (a Competition Section film). Except for the Samurai film, all the films were of highest standard. The day was marked by unruly and sub-standard crowd behavior inside the cinema halls, even when the movies were going on.  

No Fear, No Die narrated the tale of two black emigrants in France who engage in the unlawful sport of cockfighting. The Missing Picture is an innovative docu-film about the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. It’s part history, part autobiography and full of innovation. The director uses archival footages shot by the propaganda arm of the government and depicts what is missing in those official archival visuals – hence the title The missing picture. What provides a stunning effect to the missing visuals is the use of tiny clay figures to represent humans. It symbolizes the fact that under the Pol Pot regime humans were mere objects.

The battle of Tabato is another innovative film that offers the African people’s counter narration to the popular perception about the continent. The film, shot entirely in black and white, declares its own battle against the wars in many African countries: “The huge magic is peace”. It narrates the tale of an old African man who returns to his native country after spending many years in Europe. He seems to have been possessed by a spirit, perhaps a creation of his own guilty feeling about betraying his countrymen and his helplessness in preventing the bloodshed in his country.

Friday, December 06, 2013

IFFK 2013. Day 1

I started IFFK 2013 with a splendidly crafted Kazakhstan movie called Harmony Lessons, the debut feature of Emir Baigazin. The film is set in a rural Khasakh school. It tells the story of the whole mankind and our current society through Aslam, a mild-mannered and brilliant boy with few words.  He is the only boy who is out of the controlling domain of the school bully, Bolat. There are other protagonists as well, like Mirsain, who is newly arrived on the school from a city, and Akzhan, who unlike other girls in the class insists on wearing a headscarf as she believes it protects her God-given beauty from boys’ gaze.

Aslam has a scientific bent of mind and a concrete belief in rights and wrongs. The film opens with the scenes of Aslam slicing a goat into pieces. He asks his grandmother afterwards. “Can anybody survive without meat?” She replies, “Perhaps in heaven”.

Bolat, on the other hand, is a typical school bully. He has no regard for others. He spreads terror in the student’s hearts with merciless punishments and villainous manners. He and his friends make Aslam drink water from a cup that was used to wash the genitals of other students during a medical camp. Since then, Aslam vomits whenever he sees a cup. Bolat asks other students to isolate Aslam and warns of severe consequences if they maintain friendship with him.

Later we realize that Bolat is just a pawn in the hands of some bigger bullies outside the school, some of them are even religious fundamentalists.

The film meanders along for some time, sketching the character profiles of Aslam and Bolat. The teachers’ lecture provides some kind of verbal humor. The science teacher, while teaching different forms of energy, describes money as the life’s source of energy. His reasoning: “We need food for power. What gives us food? Money”.

This is in stark contrast with the deadpan seriousness of Aslam about the studies. When he solves a difficult physics problem, the teacher congratulates him and asks him to participate in local science competitions. Aslam curtly retorts: “Is physics a sport”.

In another instance, a scene showing Bolat’s acts of brutal violence is immediately followed by the lectures on Mahatma Gandhi.

The film gathers pace when Mirsain joins them. He is uncomfortable with Bolat’s bullying all along, but he gradually accepts it after an initial round of physical fight. But Aslam is kind of waging an ideological war, and he is more serious about it. We see Aslam making a crude gun, using two pipes and gown powder. One day, it happens: Somebody kills Bolat. Aslam and Mirsain are the prime suspects. Both deny the accusations. What follows is heartless interrogation from police officers, leading to the film’s powerful climax.

The highlight of the final sequences is the scene in which Aslam sitting on the side of a picturesque lake and Bolat and Mirsain calling him from the other bank. A goat navigates the lake smoothly. Aslam gets back to life.    

Emir Baigazin has mostly used static shots, as if trying to establish that he is also just another viewer of the lives of his characters. The amateur actors produced some incredible performances. The film at times reminds you of William Golding’s The Lord of Flies, which also captures children’s cruelty and lets it reflect on the unjust society and the world at large.