Mumbai Film Festival is over, but the hangover remains. And so here comes one more post. This is a guest post by Mohamed Thaver.

Killa

I recently saw ‘Killa’ (The Fort) at the MAMI film festival, a subtle, understated and beautifully woven coming-of-age narrative of an 11-year-old boy, who along with his mother, shifts to a Konkan town after his father’s death. ‘Coming of age’ movies – that seemed to be the flavor of the recently concluded MAMI film festival – by their very nature, demand a certain level of deft handling of the filmmaking craft, a nuanced, under the radar approach – one does not come of age with fanfare – bearing a ‘handle with care’ tag, as the object being worked with: childhood, is brittle indeed. Much to our delight, first time director Avinash Arun, understands that one exposure to an insensitive, over the top scene at that age, could result in a lifelong scar.

After watching the movie (more on it later) as I was walking back, I could almost visualize a certain recurring pattern develop in some good Marathi movies I had seen lately. A small joining the dots act, comprising of drawing mental lines from Shwaas to Shaala to Fandry and Killa - to name a few – revealed to me a certain aesthetic I had seen somewhere. I told my friend with some delight, ‘I think Marathi cinema is going the Iranian cinema way. Isn’t it?’

Although not exclusively, but Iranian cinema, from Children of Heaven to Colour Of Paradise, has more so always vied for the heart over the head, the innocent over the intelligent attitude to film making. It has been more interested in the simple everyday stories, mirroring on screen the day-to-day struggles faced by families, seen on several occasions from the point of view of young eyes and muddled heads. It is this innocence – that without proper treatment of the subject matter could risk seeming ineffective at best and banal at worst – that for me makes Iranian cinema endearing more than anything else.

Now having a look at some good movies to come out of Marathi cinema of late, from the poignant Shwaas to Shala, Fandry and now to Killa, the movies here do not rely on some larger than life characters or a cinematic twist in the tale or even a resolution. Rather moving to the other extreme, it tries to present a slice of life of the most common person that it could find, thereby making the theme universal. Here too, a’ la Iranain cinema, the simple head and inquisitive eyes of a child are turning out to be a preferred medium of communication. Like in Fandry, when Jabya because of being born in a particular caste, has to chase the pig in front of his school mates, the humiliation is complete and would not be lost on anyone who has ever been a child. This is not to say that the aesthetic similarity between Marathi and Iranian is of a deliberate nature, but a beautiful tool employed effectively by two very diverse cultures.

I think it is good news for Marathi cinema, because it does require a certain amount of confidence in your art for a director – and a first time director like Avinash Arun at that- to pick up a story like Killa, where you cannot hide behind on screen histrionics. In a recent interview, Vishal Bharadwaj talking about the vulnerability of a director said, “You can tell a lot about a filmmaker from the movie. The filmmaker is emotionally naked on the movie screen” It is a healthy sign that many Marathi filmmakers are willing take off the garb of everything that is not good cinema and stand naked before the viewers with regularity.

Now coming back to Killa, my friend who has grown up in Kolhapur sprinted down memory lane within the first few minutes of the movie. When Bandya is shown humming ‘chandrakanta ki kahani’ she could not believe it. It was almost like someone has gone into her mind and splashed forth her childhood on the big screen. A special mention of the inspired scene when Bandya, a full of life youngster along with friends do a dhina-dhin-dha Anil ‘Ram Lakhan’ Kapoor style to welcome a classmate who enters wearing glares. It is such a blend of keenly observed childhoods, humour and imagination that it creates magic on screen.

Several movies at MAMI received a standing ovation. For Killa, however, it did not stop at that. People just stood as the credits rolled over and then did not know what to do with themselves after the credits have rolled over. They wanted more. They wanted to relive their childhoods just a wee bit longer.

(A crime reporter on a sabbatical,  Mohamed Thaver loves well created worlds – on screen, on pages or musical notes. His blog is here)

DIFF

The third edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival begins on October 30th, 2014 with Rajat Kapoor’s acclaimed feature, Aankhon Dekhi. Rajat will also be present to introduce the film.

- The festival will also welcome several filmmakers along with Rajat Kapoor: Chaitanya Tamhane with his award-winning Court; Geetu Mohandas with Liar’s Dice, Q with Nabarun, Shabnam Sukhdev with her documentary, The Last Adieu; Pushpa Rawat with Nirnay; Tibetan filmmaker Tenzin Tsetan Choklay with Bringing Tibet Home; Finnish-Tibetan filmmakers Donagh Coleman and Lharigtso with A Gesar Bard’s Tale; and Swiss-Kurdish filmmaker Mano Khalil with The Beekeeper.

- Gitanjali Rao, one of India’s best-known animation filmmakers, will introduce her new film, True Love Story, and has also curated a series of animation films from India and internationally.

- Fest includes an Indian short film selection curated by reputed filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni.

- A highlight this year is the exciting package of films from the Middle East: Sundance and TIFF award-winning The Square by Jehane Noujaim; Return to Homs by Talal Derki which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; A World Not Ours by Mahdi Fleifel; and Hany Abu-Assad’s Cannes 2013 Jury Prize-winning Omar, which was also nominated for the Oscars.

- DIFF has also announced a series of Special Programmes that include an exploration of the world of sound, a visual journey through anonymous and powerful Tibetan voices, and a tribute to German artist and filmmaker, HarunFarocki, who passed away earlier this year.

a) Soundphiles is a celebration of listening. Curated by Samina Mishra and Iram Ghufran, the first edition – Many Echoes, Many Words –features filmmakers, artists, journalists and arts students who combine a diversity of worlds and forms of sound. The series draws the audience through the rhythm of the textile mills of Malegaon, broken sounds from the contested streets of London, a deafening bombing in Iran, scratchy magnetic tracks of old Hindi films and more.

b) In collaboration with the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection, DIFF 2014 presents Unattributed, a video art series showcasing anonymous Tibetan artists living in Tibet and in the diaspora. The presentation explores the tension between an ancient culture’s unbroken artistic tradition and the personality-driven world of contemporary art.

c) In collaboration with the Goethe Institute, DIFF 2014 will present a retrospective of Harun Farocki’s films. Three films that capture the essence of his work will screen at the festival: Inextinguishable Fire (Farocki’s first movie after leaving film school); Videograms of a Revolution (in which he collects amateur video and material broadcast on television and chronicles the fall of a dictator in Romania); and Workers Leaving the Factory (an exploration of the factory worker through 100 years of film history).

- DIFF Film Fellows initiative; a programme was launched this year to nurture upcoming filmmaking talent in the Himalayan regions. The winners are Akee Sorokhaibam from Manipur, Khanjan Kishore Nath from Assam, Kombong Darang from Arunachal Pradesh, Munmun Dhalaria from Himachal Pradesh and Smanla Dorje Nurboo from Ladakh. The five DIFF Film Fellows were selected from 28 applicants through a rigorous process by a jury of eminent film personalities – Hansal Mehta, Anupama Srinivasan and Bina Paul.

The five winners will have the opportunity to be a part of DIFF 2014 and to engage in special mentorship sessions with the jury and attending filmmakers.  They come from varied backgrounds, brought together by a shared passion for filmmaking.

- The 3rd edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival will take place in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala, between 30 October and 2 November. Longtime residents of Dharamshala, Indian-Tibetan filmmaking couple Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, initiated the film festival with the aim to bring high quality independent cinema to Dharamshala, encourage local filmmaking talent and create a meaningful platform for engage all the communities in the area.

- For more : DIFF House, Opposite Norbulingka Institute, PO : Sidhpur, Distt : Kangra, HP 176057

- Email : info@diff.co.in | www.diff.co.in

- FB page is here

DIFF2

We are still nursing a hangover of MFF 2014, more so now after this week’s Bollywood release.  Hence this post.

Kushal Chowdhary is a Bengali. Brought up in Gujarat. Lives and works in Bombay and dreams of no work and Tuscany. Hobbies are reading, movies and cricket. Like everybody else in India. He has written a series of travelogues on Istanbul, Mognolia, Tuscany, Siberia for rediff.

Over to @kushalchowdhury -

The Mumbai film festival ended this week, and with it seven days of waiting in queues and overhearing amusing conversations and watching plants grow.

Kissanpur

There’s already plenty that’s been written about most of the films here and elsewhere. I doubt if I have anything significant to add. But here’re my thoughts on 7 of them anyway.

1. Barf (Iran; Dir: Mehdi Rahmani)

A young man in the army returns home for a break and finds his one-wealthy family fallen on hard times. Over the course of the film, we meet the various members and gradually learn of their problems and motivations in details and the undercurrents that run in the family. Hardly a novel setup.

For me, there are two aspects of the film that separate it from the dozens of other dysfunctional family films I’ve seen. One, that it knows that the wealthy can’t ever truly become poor. They may know they are no longer wealthy and that they must adapt themselves to a different lifestyle; they can even be successful in doing so in all the obvious ways, but there’re always little things that they cannot let go of. Clean curtains. A bit of make-up (even some helpful surgery). A sudden craving for pizza.

As a Bong, I’ve seen my share of families like that and throughout the film I spotted little things that brought back many memories.

The second aspect where Barf differs from most other films is that it is able to dig a little deeper into its characters’ motivations than that they are basically decent human beings who are trying to do the best they can for the family, under the circumstances. Almost every good film gets that right. But Barf also shows you that human beings (with their inherent sense of self-righteousness) also believe (are convinced, in fact) they are doing the best they can for the family, while nobody else is bothered. Everyone is unaware they may in fact be more selfish than they themselves think.

That aspect is probably clearest in the case of the sister (believes that getting married to a man she hasn’t yet met is an enormous sacrifice she is making for her family but doesn’t realise how much trouble she has caused by walking out of an otherwise stable first marriage only because she was bored) but is present in every other character too.

Incidentally, it appears Barf does not have an IMDb listing yet. I tried creating one and found out first-hand how complicated it is to do so.

Godard

2. Goodbye to Language (France; Dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

I have long since stopped trying to make too much sense of a Godard film. I doubt if Godard could do so himself. Instead, I find pleasure in the visuals (and the use of 3D in this film is far, far, out), the abundant references to other art, and the fleeting moments when something makes sense to me. I think it also helps if, like Godard, one has pondered over everything under the sun and has an opinion on each. That way, it is more likely that something or the other will make sense or even when it does not it will start you off on a train of thought that could be more rewarding than what the film itself has to say.

The sight of a dog being carried away (quite happily, judging by the expression on its face) by a strong river current has stayed with me. As have the sounds of farts. And several other images which I am not even sure were actually present in the film.

Why was a child allowed at the screening? Are children also offered passes for MAMI?

3. Corn Island (Georgia; Dir: George Ovashvili)

I am generally partial towards films such as this, and I admit I may be praising it more than it deserves. It certainly isn’t as good as Sweetgrass or Le Quattro Volte or even Rivers & Tides (which isn’t really the same type of film but comes together with the rest in the DVD box set in my head). But like those other films, it too approaches questions of existence and meaning by focussing on simple unadorned lives and stories.

An unusual natural phenomenon creates temporary islands in the middle of a river every year. At the same time, the river swells so much its banks become uninhabitable. And so, each year, men set out into the river looking for a temporary island and whoever finds one first owns it for the duration of its existence. He brings his family, builds a house and grows corn on it. And then, when the rains come, the island is washed away and everybody heads back to the banks.

Corn Island focuses on one such man, his grand-daughter and one such cycle. Nobody speaks much and there is no need to. Because the film is set in Georgia and Russia is right around the corner, there are also soldiers on patrol. And occasional gunshots. Some of that, in my view, diverts too much attention from the central themes of the film (or what I think should be the central themes).

There is one sequence in the second act that is oddly out of sync with the rest of the film. A couple of characters behave in a way that isn’t organic to their nature. And the final act probably gets too literal with the film’s metaphor. There was no need to shoe-horn such obvious tragedy into a film that really should be more evolved than that.

Still the water

4. Still The Water (Japan; Dir: Naomi Kawase)

A film full of poetry. Observes the lives of people on a Japanese island and tries to find meaning in the mundane.  Succeeds most of the time. Of all the different segments, the one that transcends the rest of the film is that which observes a family – father, mother and daughter. The mother is in her thirties (or perhaps early 40s) but is ailing and does not have long to live. The family knows it and they spend their last days together in corners of their house that they have come to love and their conversations are filled with humour, affection, melancholy and acceptance. The Japanese culture has a rare grace and wisdom in how it deals with and embraces the subject of death (Ebert writes about it here with more elegance than I ever can) and no matter how many films I see and books I read from that country, it never ceases to fill me with wonder.

The opening scene is that of an old man hanging a goat by its legs and making a cut at the neck from where the blood slowly drains out. The goat bleats for a while and the man stands by it, patting it affectionately until it stops, and perhaps contemplates his own mortality. Cruelty and compassion co-exist in the same act.

The scene has little to do with the rest of the film but then, that’s the kind of film this is.

5. Two Days, One Night (France; Dir: The Dardenne Brothers)

I am not quite sure if the central premise of the film is realistic – a small business owner offers his employees the choice between their losing their annual bonus (1000 Euros) and losing a co-worker (Marion Cotillard). The recession has not been kind to the operation and it is impossible for the owner to arrange funds for both. Most people (14 out of 16) choose to take the bonus (and therefore leave Cotillard out in the cold) the first time they vote but Cotillard convinces the owner to organize another vote two days later and then sets out to meet all 16 co-workers over the course of a weekend.

I don’t know if any owner would actually come up with a choice like that (very unlikely I believe) but as far as setting up a film to explore the clash between the morality of doing the right thing for another person and the need to do the right thing for yourself, it is a brilliant setup.

Unsurprisingly, once you buy into that premise, it is a great film.

Two Days, One Night

I was also keen to see (like most people, I suppose) why the Dardennes, having built a career out of casting unknown faces, felt the need to have Marion Cotillard for this film. The reason’s evident, once you watch the film. Her performance and interpretation of the character is central to the film’s success. It is the sort of character that, on the basis of merely what must’ve been in the script, could easily be played with unimaginative straightforwardness.  And that’d have made the film many degrees poorer.

6. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel; Dir: Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz)

Fascinating film, without doubt. And in many ways an excellent indictment of the Judiciary. But I also wonder, what exactly is the alternative? Yes, the first few times when the husband refuses to turn up in court, it is a clear case of the law needing to be revisited. But, once he does start appearing, this is what the scenario looks like – Both are present – neither is willing to accuse the other of anything that resembles grounds for divorce – the husband is unwilling to agree to the divorce – the wife wants it because they aren’t compatible as a couple. How do you frame a law to handle that?

The more I think of the film, the more it seems to me like it should actually be about the absurdity of expecting the Judiciary to sensibly handle a case like this rather than being an indictment of the Judiciary.

'71 film still

7. ’71 (England; Dir: Yann Demange)

Somebody please explain to me the layout of the building that is the venue of the central sequence in the film. How many floors? How many wings? The crack in the wall was where? Where did it lead to? How were the hunters spread out? How could nobody see the prey walking out in the open for an entire wing? For the centrepiece action scene in an action film, isn’t this stuff important?

Great sequence leading up to and right after the blast at the bar, though.

I liked several other films too, this year (in fact, hardly disliked any, except Lessons in Dissent) – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Clouds of Sils Maria, Charlie’s Country (the actor had me at Hello). But 7 is already too many.

We saw the film Sulemani Keeda at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival. To repeat what we had said, it’s the bonafide Versova indie – of versova, by versova, for versova (and hopefully beyond). It’s honest, charming, funny, and tells all those Versova tales which hardly travel beyond the walls of Aaram Nagar. If Luck By Chance was the big budget portrayal of the bollywood insanity, Sulemani Keeda is the opposite – of those who are on the fringes, of writers and their struggle with actors, producers, landlords.

And here’s the good news – PVR Director’s Rare will release the film on November 28th, 2014. Do check out the trailer.

Official Synopsis:

In this slacker bro-mantic comedy, writing partners Dulal and Mainak dream of shaking up the Bollywood with their script “Sulemani Keeda”. When they’re not being rejected by producers who refuse to read their script, they lurk around bookstores and poetry slams shamelessly hitting on girls. They find some hope when the drug addled, cat-obsessed Gonzo Kapoor, the son of a famous B movie producer, hires them to write an art house film billed as “Tarkovsky with orgies” for his directorial debut. All seems well until Dulal meets Ruma, a beautiful photographer who makes him question his choices in life.

Cast & Crew:

Title: Sulemani Keeda

International title: Writers

Writer & Director: Amit V Masurkar

Countries : India, USA

Year : 2014

Language : Hindi

Runtime : 90 minutes

Producers : Datta Dave, Chaitanya Hegde

Associate Producers : Deepa Tracy, Sailesh Dave, Suresh Mhatre

Production company : Tulsea Pictures in association with Mantra/Runaway Entertainment

Cast: Naveen Kasturia, Mayank Tewari, Aditi Vasudev, Karan Mirchandani, Krishna Bisht, Rukshana Tabassum

Cinematography: Surjodeep Ghosh

Editor: Khushboo Agarwal Raj

Sound Design: Niraj Gera

Music: Arfaaz-Anurag

Location Sound: Shailesh Sharma

DI: Post Blackbox

Line Producers: Deepak Arora, Arvinder Gill, Rakesh Singh, Navit Dutt

First Assistant Director: Omar Nissar Paul

Marketing Consultant: Rahul Merchant

Publicist: Mauli Singh

Those who watched Xavier Dolan’s Mommy at the recent concluded Mumbai Film Festival, most of them agree that one scene in the film is easily the show stealer – when the character opens his arms and stretches the 1:1 aspect ratio to wide screen.

Mommy

Strangely, many don’t know that our Dharam Paaji did it ages ago, in a film called Sitamgar. Click the play button and enjoy (at 3.30).

Tip – @SachinChatte

 

 

The first look of the film X is out.

The film will open the South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) which runs from Nov 18-23, 2014. Interestingly, it’s 1 film with 11 segments directed by 11 filmmakers. The directorial bunch includes Sudhish Kamath (Good Night | Good Morning), Q (Gandu), Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum), Suparn Verma (Aatma, Ek Haseena Ek Khiladi), Raja Sen, Sandeep Mohan (Love Wrinkle-Free), Pratim Gupta (Paanch Adhyay), Hemant Gaba (Shuttlecock Boys), Abhinav Shiv Tiwari Sankhnaad (Oass), Anu Menon (London Paris New York), and Rajshree Ojha (Aisha, Chaurahen). And this includes 3 film reviewers. If you don’t like the film, well, you get the drift.

 Check out the first trailer of the film. And scroll down for detailed synopsis, cast & credits.

Official Synopsis :

Is man meant to stick to one woman? Is film meant to conform to one genre?

X is a one-of-its-kind film because eleven Indian filmmakers with disparate styles of filmmaking have come together to make different parts of the same film. In strikingly different styles as a bridge between the various cinemas of India. Mainstream, Arthouse, Popular, Underground, Regional and Global – all at the same time. NOT an anthology but a single story.

The story of K (Rajat Kapoor), a filmmaker with a mid life crisis, who meets a mysterious young girl (Aditi Chengappa) who reminds him of his first girlfriend at first, and subsequently, of every woman in his life. Who is she? Is she real or imaginary? A stalker or a ghost? His past catching up or a character from the script he is writing?

Each episode, directed by a different filmmaker (since every woman/story required a different genre) unravels the role of a different woman in his life. Every woman is different and through the lens of different filmmakers, X hopes to explore the role women play in shaping our lives.

What is it that makes us tick or stop? What is it that keeps us anchored or free falling? What is it that makes us move or let go? Are we products of our past or present? What is that X factor that defines who we are?

X Cast & Crew

Cast: Aditi Chengappa, Bidita Bag, Gabriella Schmidt, Huma Qureshi, Neha Mahajan, Parno Mitra, Pia Bajpai, Pooja Ruparel, Radhika Apte, Richa Shukla, Rii Sen and Swara Bhaskar with Anshuman Jha and Rajat Kapoor

Directed by: Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Nalan Kumarasamy, Pratim D Gupta, Q, Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath and Suparn Verma

Written by: Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Hemant Gaba, Pratim D Gupta, Q, Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath, Suparn Verma and Thiagarajan Kumararaja

Directors of Photography: Anuj Dhawan, Aseem Bajaj, Dinesh Krishnan, Gairik Sarkar, Katyayani Mudholkar, Maeve O Connell, Q, Ravi K Chandran, Sandeep Mohan, Siddhartha Nuni, Sidharth Kay and Viraj Sinh Gohil

Edited by: Sreekar Prasad, Vijay Prabakaran, Vijay Venkataramanan, Biplab Goswami, Gairik Sarkar, Dhritiman Das, Shreyas Beltangdy, Ankit Srivastava, Ninaad Khanolkar

Post Production Management & Grading: Siddharth Meer

Sound Mix: Gita Gurappa

Lyrics: Pratyush Prakash & Raja Sen

Music: Maitreya

Additional Screenplay: Thiagarajan Kumararaja

Executive Producers: Shiladitya Bora & Sudhish Kamath

Produced by: Manish Mundra

So we read this piece on Quartz India – “A Bollywood-backed Twitter campaign saved the Mumbai Film Festival—but crushed its spirit”. Friends told us it’s a well respected website. Yet to figure out why. (Not that we trust Columbia Journalism grads on desi film industry, most of the times they have no clue about bollywood or indie-bhindies) As we were joking about it, we thought let’s not respond to it till the closing ceremony. Aamir, Madhuri, Anushka, Parineeti, Esha…OMG! So many stars at MAMI! We have never seen them before at Mumbai Film Festival. They killed the indie spirit and how. Look at the winners. Bollywood must not have heard about these filmmakers and they crushed them by giving them awards – Avinash Arun (Killa), Bikash Mishra (Chauranga) and Chaitanya Tamhane (Court). And these 3 films bagged top 6 awards in International Competition and India Gold section. Interestingly, all three are based in Mumbai. City’s fest, city’s filmmakers, what an achievement! MAMI never had a better year than this. If only some people knew what they are writing about.

Moving on, here’s our day wrap of last 2 days

’71

A Soldier is abandoned accidentally by his unit in the middle of a riot in Belfast. I must confess I was at loss quite a few times thanks to the heavy North Irish accent, but this edge of the seat thriller-drama has enough moments to keep you hooked on. The riot sequence and the chase alone itself is worth the watch. Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Look and feel – all top notch in this gritty film. One can feel the pain of the wound being stitched, the weight of the stone being thrown and the deafening screech after an unexpected bomb blast. Watch it.

Court

This film deserves every accolade it has got abroad. Minimal with pitch perfect detailing, long takes & wide shots, performances that seem natural and unrehearsed, a dab of social & political commentary every now and then, and a realistic depiction of a Kafkaesque trial – it at times ceases to be a film and seems like life unfolding in front of your eyes. Easily one of the top films at MFF this year. Do not miss this for anything.

- @nagrathnam

Theeb

This is as unpretentious and straightforward a film can be. And that’s where lies its joy. A young Jordanian boy is left alone to fend for himself in bandit territory with the bandit that killed his brother. The bandit becomes his protector and the boy needs him to reach safety. Its not the barren terrain alone, a terrain from whose womb few films emerge but an entire world that opens up to us simply by the choices the characters make in this film. If you like films as an observer and seeker of experience, then this is well worth it.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Literary world threatens to envelope the real and the real world reflects the literary one, shadowing each other as the film explores the nature of time and age. Oblique with a lot of subtext, Clouds of Sils Maria is a meta referential guide to an aging actor’s work and life experience as we explore her inner world and art through her explorations of the character she is playing. Absorbing and visually beautiful, the end is mystifying but Juliette Binoche’s glorious performance makes it more than worth the watch even as a the point in its entirety maybe subject to subjective audience interpretation or simply lost. Almost meta referential of tha film again!

Mission Rape – A Tool Of War (Documentary)

Disturbing even at its short length of an hour. The documentary talks about the mass rapes that were used to perpetrate horror in Bosnia-Herzegovinian conflict during the early nineties. Victims and their families fighting for justice speak their stories and how justice has been denied to them. A stark image of the hegemony of patriarchy and the politics of war stares in front of us as we despair at the continuing inhumanity of the world. There is no attempt to dramatise events or manipulate the audience, facts are laid out bare and footage used matter-of-factly. Its short and not as incisive or comprehensive as it could be, but its honest and dignified, and therein lies its worth.

Girlhood

 Is it me or was there a major number of women-centric films this year at MAMI?In any case, its a cause for celebration and I did with Girlhood. In fact, what better film than that! Its a journey of an African teenage girl, bred and brought up in a steeply patriarchal culture finding her independence. Not only the thrift of storytelling and the simplicity of narration but the wealth of detailing makes this not only an important coming-of-age film, but a feminist film. Blue as the primary colour in the scheme, girls finding their freedom in acting like boys, the need for male approval, the male gaze and so on and on, the script explores each one of these very important aspects of influence in the shaping of a girl into a woman. A must watch!

Coffee Bloom

An interesting film about coming to terms with the past…Set in lush Coorg that is filmed with a lot of love, it is a the story of Dev, a troubled young man who is trying hard to gather his life torn apart by loss of his childhood home and his love. Love, loss, betrayal with spirituality on the fringes are some of the themes that inform the plot-driven narrative with able support from the lead actors. The screenplay is tight and engaging, the unfolding or rather undoing of the characters and their coming together quite convincing. A minor grouse, however, were the dialogues or maybe it was the way some of them were delivered, that sounded quite banal. An assured debut.

Demons

An adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel by the same name, it is an ambitious film that tries hard to embody all of Dostoevsky’s ideas questioning nihilism, utopianism, spirituality and the human condition. Unfortunately, it fails to portray the complexity of these ideas, leave alone present a picture of 19th century Russia in all its multifarious-ness. The narrative is non-linear, something that adds a complex physicality to the film but does not supply the necessary depth or breadth, leave alone create any darkness in mood. Demons is supposed to be an intense literary work, both exploring the interiority of its characters as possessed by an inexplicable evil that is part of human belief system as well as the social conditions of Russia and its politics of the time. The film, despite its three hour long running time does little justice to the dark world of Dostoevsky or the zeitgeist of Russia, confusing hyperventilating for intensity and substituting CG work for surrealism.

@Fatema

The Tree (Drevo)

In the 15th century, a deadly tradition began in the Balkans, which were then under Turkish rule. Krvna Osveta is still practiced in Albania today. But that is not the story of The Tree, though it does flutter in the backdrop. Instead, in three sections, we see captivity (or, as the director prefers to say, “entrapment”) of three kinds. The story is also about power; about struggling against power; about the various shades of power — personal, political, emotional and familial. Intimately shot and powerfully acted against a spare landscape in three main colours, this film will enter your mind and haunt you endlessly.

Slovenia makes only five to ten films a year — and the director, Sonja Prosenc, who graced the screening, informed us that two of the three remarkable leads were amateurs. In such a spare landscape, it is even more remarkable when a director makes such a stunning debut.

The Big Journey

Perhaps the best movies about journeys are those that are not about the journey at all. A devout, French Muslim coaxes his reluctant son to drive him all the way to Mecca — a taxing route spanning 3000 miles. But there are no sights on the way, even though the son would like to stop for some of them. Instead, we enter the minds of the protagonists and travel through their maze of differences — due to a significant distance in their ages; due to their belonging to different times; due to their having different beliefs about religion, and right and wrong.

Their clashes are the age-old clashes of the conservative and the modern; the devout and the casual believer; the old and the young. There are some regular road movie tropes thrown in — such as trouble at customs; thieves and strange companions on the journey. But there is also some great detailing — especially in the last part where we meet travelling Arabs going to Mecca, replete with their customs, their prayers, their caravans.

As the father and son travel farther away from home, The Big Journey becomes all about bridging the distance between two minds and hearts.

Theeb

Are we a product of our environment? Or do we shape it? Theeb suggests the former. After all, who can shape the mighty desert? In Arabia in 1916, we see the cruel, unforgiving, death-giving desert produce children who see, and accept, cruelty as a routine ingredient of their lives. Of course, accepting cruelty with such equanimity requires fearlessness as well. And we see all of this in both Theebs — the protagonist, and the movie.

Mesmerisingly shot entirely on location against the ravishing landscape of Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba, and cast with non-professional actors from one of the last of Jordan’s nomadic Bedouin tribes to settle down, Theeb is often disturbing — for its hyper-realistic depiction of life in the desert, the desperation it induces, and the everyday violence accepted by the tribes. Often the movie crawls, just like the days in the desert, and it becomes difficult to watch on. But life is never easy; why should such a marvellous movie be?

- @Shubhodeep

Court

Extremely real situations (too close to reality for people who keep tabs on what’s happening), real people and performances. In fact, a lot of people in the cast are not professional actors but they seem natural in front of the camera. Film unfolds mostly in a courtroom where a man (a Shahir) stands accused of abetting suicide of another man. Clearly it’s just an excuse by the state to put him behind bars. While the starting point of the film seem to be inspired from real events, it aims to take a broader view of the society and its functioning as well as its relationship with the state and its institutions by going into the lives of each of the main players.

- @neeraja

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed by this, given the hype. Powered by a cool ‘vampire-in-a-veil’ conceit and hip soundtrack, it’s fun but doesn’t do anything very interesting thematically or in terms of storytelling, especially given the vast potential of its premise. Instead, it feels disappointingly content in just being an exercise in posturing and Sin-City style B&W visuals instead of being genuinely groundbreaking or revelatory. (Perhaps Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist set the bar way too high a couple of years back.)

Clouds Of Sils Maria

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart play off each other brilliantly in Clouds Of Sils Maria, Oliver Assayas’ sharp, brutally funny and super-meta movie with a heart of melancholy. The compelling dynamic and amazing chemistry between the actresses alone makes this a must-watch, even as all the nudging and winking occasionally gets a tad overbearing. The film is too diffuse to be devastating (or a modern companion-classic to Sunset Boulevard) but Clouds of Sils Maria is always compelling, and when Binoche bares her soul with such blazing poise and elegance, it’s hard not to be floored.

- jahanbakshi