One thing I realized this time, thanks to the daily commute of roughly 4-hours to and from the festival venue. Watching a film festival is as much a measure of your love for cinema as it is a test of your fitness. Running down the railway station stairs to catch Virar-Churchgate fast that is arriving in 1-minute, keeping your senses alert and combative till a seat is found in the crowded train (generally happens after initial 30-minutes of standing at the optimum place – somewhere in the middle of two rows so that you have double the probability of getting a seat), taking the 2-3 kilometer walks from Churchgate station to the venue, and of course keeping your legs folded and hands tied for the duration of the films. That’s why, people who look so enthusiastic on day 1 or 2 of the festival start dropping out by 3rd/4th day. Or start looking like one of the characters from depressing European cinema they are watching.
That’s why, if you don’t sleep mid-screening at least once, you aren’t doing a film festival right.
Festival’s centerpiece film Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ was cancelled in the morning. Theories abound – they couldn’t find the password to open the disk (apparently, password is sent just one hour before the screening to avoid piracy etc.), the file format they sent was unreadable, that they had a special screening for Tina Ambani and friends the previous night and didn’t realize the password is valid for one screening only. (Thankfully, Amour is screening today afternoon finally.)
So in the slot emptied by ‘Amour’, we headed for ‘Shameless’. And why not? The trailer and synopsis made it read like a juicy piece on a sex-filled drama about a brother and sister. In many ways, it can be thought of as a prequel to Steve Mcqueen’s ‘Shame’, again about a brother and sister having problems due to their unusual sexual ‘conditions’. The ‘troubled place’ Carey Mulligan’s Sissy talks about but is never shown in the film could be imagined as vaguely similar to this. But that’s the only good I could extract out of this film with so many coincidences, thin sub-plots, and sexually charged but never lighting up mood. Ending, in true European cinema fashion, was abrupt and frustrating. So was most of the film too.
This reminded me, above all, of DD afternoon show ‘Swabhimaan’ (the one with Rohit Roy, Kittu Gidwani, Manoj Bajpayi et al). A family drama about rich, perverted, crazy for power and sex people. Had a few moments of brilliance, but overall was quite self-serious and at places, hilariously ridiculous. The worst watch in this festival for me. P.S. – It was the kind of film where in an emotional scene, it starts raining heavily.
Sunrise/1927/F.W. Murnau/USA: Hadn’t seen any film by this master of silent cinema – Murnau, and thanks to this rare opportunity by MFF, I got to see one of his best. So much visual experimentation in a 1927 film, and so original humor and slice-of-life moments (the two toughest things to write in my opinion). And Liberty Cinema, with its red carpeted staircase and red-leather finish chairs in balcony was just the perfect venue for this chicken-soup of a film.
The last film of the day was an easy watch. Jojo finds a chick Jackdaw fallen out of its nest, carries it home and pets it, while his always-angry-and-cruel single-father learns to love his son over the course of the film. It was that simple a plot, told with lots of humor, emotion, music, and slice-of-life moments. Very little could have gone wrong with this, and very little did.
(Am tempted to add – It should do well in close-knit-family oriented territories of Central and Northern India. First weekend collections should be good. The Jackdaw bird does a satisfactory job but could have done better in emotional scenes. Music was as per the need, and editing was good, but another 10-minutes shorter and it would have crossed 20-crores in 1st weekend.)
Holy Motors/2012/Leos Carax/France-Germany: How does one begin writing about this film? A film that is trying to break every convention, burn every book, and shake every belief about cinema in particular and philosophy of life and living in general. It starts with a dream-like sequence of a man breaking a wall to enter the balcony of a cinema hall, where people are watching a film while a naked baby and huge bull-dogs parade the aisles. And from here on, it gets more bizarre. But it’s the variety of bizarre that keeps you completely engaged (I had donated my senses and soul to the film completely, within initial 15-minutes), asking you to stay alert and try piecing together the information, and in return giving you visuals and events of such ambition that your brain’s g-spot is constantly in a rub.
Though for the best experience, I’d suggest you go for it without reading ANYTHING about the film or its plot (as I did) because most of the reviews do give out the philosophical connotations the film is hinting at. And that means some of the awe of discovering it for the first time is gone.
It reminded me of many things, from Hindu mythology to reptile-race-aliens based science-fiction to Freud’s ‘On Dreams’ to this short film to one of my all-time favorite films, Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Synecdoche, New York’ – another crazy, inventive journey into trying to point out the loopholes in the normal understanding of why/how we exist. And in spite of all this apparent depth, the film is never heavy. In fact, it’s comical at quite a few places, and musical at quite a few others. Will write a detailed piece after the fest is done, and after I’ve watched it one more time when it’s out online.
The Hunt/2012/Thomas Vinterberg/Denmark: Ideally, nothing should have been watched after the high of Holy Motors, but the greedy festival junkies we are, chucking a film as hyped as The Hunt would have been out of character. Going with the image of Scandinavian cinema, this one too had a cold and dark feel to it. A man, accused of a sex-offense by a kindergarten kid, faces the witch-hunt from a small hunting-crazy town of Denmark. The film gets heavier and intense as it proceeds, but in spite of all its finesse (in almost every department), it failed to impress me much. May be I was still in Holy Motors zone, or may be it worked on too predictable lines of persecution and silence – I found it quite a middling, safe attempt. The last section and the epilogue are terrific though. Good enough to redeem the depressing-frustrating middle.
Something in the Air/2012/Olivier Assayas/France: Ghanta kuchh samajh nahin aaya. French version of ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’. Set in 70’s France, featuring a group of students learning and unlearning the neo-communist movement. Bas itna hi samajh mein aaya. Rest of it was oppression-repression-dissolution-subaltern-minimalistic-bourgeoisie-mumbojumbovadapaav. Excellent production design, a couple of sex-scenes, and evocation of an era gone by were the only redeeming factors. I even stopped reading subtitles after the 1st hour and just spent time looking at the props and recreation of the 70’s France.