October 28, 2012

Mumbai 2012: Epilogue

It was my fourth year at Mumbai Film Festival, and I have to admit that it was the best organized I have seen. The 1100-seat beautiful auditorium at NCPA was the perfect Main Venue. And there were six more screens (at NCPA and Inox, Nariman Point) at a walking distance. I also liked what Inox did to effectively manage the crowd – they required you to collect tickets for each movie that you wanted to see, against your festival pass. It helped us as we didn’t have to stand in long queues for hours. Another venue, not far from there, was the Liberty theater, a beautiful 700-seat auditorium with its old-world charm intact for the classics that were screened there. Travelling all the way to South Mumbai did cost me some sleep, but I think it was worth it. For two days, out of seven, I attended the screenings at Cinemax Versova, which is a 15-minute auto ride from my place. Overall, I think for the first time the organizers have implemented the learning of past experiences into successfully managing the festival.

With each passing year, the number of people I know in this city is increasing. So, the festival each year is getting a better place to hang out with them. There are some whom you meet only annually, during this week, and that familiarity makes things more eventful for you.

The best thing about any film festival is obviously the movies. I’m satisfied this time, having watched 31 movies from more than fourteen countries in seven days. It included the latest works of legends like Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, Bernardo Bertolucci, Michael Haneke, and Takashi Kitano, the top award winners at Sundance and Cannes this year, and also the official Oscar entries of Spain, Austria, Uruguay, Netherlands, and Romania.

Classics like ‘Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans’, ‘The Leopard’, ‘Umberto D’, ‘Accattone’, ‘Two for the Road’, and ‘Laura’ completed the experience, and the icing on the cake was the Live Orchestra that performed with the silent Indo-German classic – ‘A Throw of Dice’.

All this year, I have not been able to watch as many movies as I normally do. Thanks to this fest, my annual score is now decent. The greed, however, is never satisfied, the thirst remains unquenchable. I hope it remains the same even after fifty such festivals – annual rituals when the celebration of cinema adopts a maddening, intoxicating fervor, and you feel like a kid in the best amusement park man has ever created.

Mumbai 2012 Day #7: The Final Ingredients

There are certain types of movies that are essential to complete your film fest experience. Let me indulge further on this and share with you what, according to me, are those categories:
1. Structurally twisted or abstract films, which leave the audience puzzled and they do not know what to make out of it.
2. Painfully slow movies that crawl slower than a snail, causing most of the audience to fall asleep.
3. Fiercely violent movies where the slashing of flesh and bone is celebrated in unapologetic style.
4. Movies transcending all limits of graphic sex scenes and taboos, scandalizing the audience for life.

Please excuse this honest confession of my guilty pleasures, but it is high time I confess my strong love for such movies, and throughout the festival I hope to watch movies fulfilling these needs. It was satisfying to discover one such movie today. 'Holy Motors' (French, 2012) fulfilled three of the above-mentioned categories, more or less. But more than that, the film had some stunningly beautiful sequences, and in the end, the final shot of the film was unforgettable. For many it was the best film of the festival, and for some it was too baffling to comment. I'm almost tempted to recommend this movie as a must-watch-before-you-die. But for now, I would just let you watch its trailer by clicking here.

Also watched, and enjoyed, the subtle Danish drama 'Teddy Bear' (2012), and the dark comedy on the cultural phenomenon of reality television - 'Reality' (Italian, 2012).

After a great festival, the last thing you want is an unworthy closing film. That is one prayer I always have on my lips - that the last film shouldn't disappoint me. Watching 'Blancanieves' (Spanish, 2012) was such a pleasant surprise. It was a silent, black and white film, in 1:1 aspect ratio, a dark, melodramatic take on the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The innocent magic of pure cinema, as I like to call silent films, was just the perfect way to end this festival.

October 27, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #6: Sleep Deprived!

On the sixth day, finally, the sleep deprivation of the past few days made things immensely difficult for me. I managed to watch five movies, but struggled all day. Since I avoid tea or coffee, there was nothing that could have helped me anyway. What helped, were the movies.

After watching ten modern movies in the last couple of days, I was craving for some classics. So, I watched Stanley Donen's 'Two for the Road' (1967) - an unforgettable romantic comedy in one of the best time-twisted screenplays; and Otto Preminger's 'Laura' (1944) that looked stunning in its restored Black and White glory.

Also watched the quiet and involving 'The Interval' (Italian, 2012) and the political thriller 'The Fourth State' (German, 2012).

But the movie of the day was the Romanian drama 'Beyond the Hills' (2012), the story of two young girls in an orthodox convent in Romania. The film had won Best Screenplay and Best Actress at Cannes this year, and I was eagerly waiting for it. It is also Romania's official entry for Oscars. One unique feature of the film was that each of its scenes was covered in one Master shot. Which meant, the director was not modifying space and time for us, and making the experience live and real-time. It was as if we were there in that monastery, observing the characters like invisible but omnipresent spectators. Not many realize how difficult an aesthetic choice this is - to tell a story as emotionally powerful as this without resorting to a single close-up cut.

After the last movie of the day, I spent some time sitting at the Marine Drive. Festival is not over yet, but tomorrow I won't be coming to this side of the town. So, today, I bid my good bye to the 'main venue' of this year's festival.

P.S. This post was written a couple of days after the 6th day of the festival, for obvious reasons - the title of the post tells it all. 

October 24, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #5: Legends

This does not happen too often. It has certainly never happened to me before today - latest movies by cinema's most reputed Masters, back-to-back...

Ken Loach's 'The Angels' Share' (British, 2012): A dramedy on a young father's struggles when he swears on his new-born to live a crime-free life...

Bernardo Bertolucci's 'Me and You' (Italian, 2012): Secretly camping in the basement of his own house, a fourteen-year old boy bonds with his step-sister, as both struggle with their obsessions and insecurities...

And finally, Michael Haneke's 'Amour' (French, 2012): One of the most unforgettable love stories, in which an elderly couple's love for each other is tested under severe circumstances; possibly the best movie of the year so far...

It's always good to end the day with a light, entertaining film. 'Electrick Children' (USA, 2012) did just that. It was especially heartening to observe the audience reaction on this story about a fifteen-year old girl getting pregnant miraculously, through immaculate conception, a la the Virgin Mary.

Difficult to believe, five days are over, already...

October 23, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #4: Fathers and Grandfathers

'The Delay' (Uruguay, 2012): A middle-aged woman struggles to take control of her life as a mother of three and the daughter of an elderly, forgetful man. What distance will she go to get rid of her responsibilities toward her Dad?

'Like Someone in Love' (2012, a Japanese film by Abbas Kiarostami): A teenage escort spends a night with an elderly man, whom her possessive boyfriend assumes to be her grandfather. What will this lead to?

'Maddened by His Absence' (France, 2012): A father's obsession with the memories of his dead son leads him to increased affection for a kid from her ex-wife's current marriage.

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' (USA, 2012): A six-year old girl learns the lessons on survival as her small isolated community is facing death, as is her father.

'Twice Upon a Time' (France, 2012): A man discovers a child living his own childhood, with the same name, and similar parents - it is a parallel existence of his days as a child before his eyes, as he bonds with them, chasing his own ghosts of the past.

This morning, as I was leaving for the film fest, I had a brief interaction with an elderly gentleman who wished me a good day. I don't know whether I'll ever see him again, but our little interaction had something that I will never want to forget. Was that a trailer of the day's events to unfold? Going by the five movies I saw today, it seems too much of a coincidence - all these movies talked about the bonds between two generations of parents and children. Life is strange, its screenplay is stranger.

18 movies in four days is a good score. The bad news is - the festival is already past its half-way mark!

October 22, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #3: The Pleasures in Movies

By the end of the third day of a week-long celebration, you start getting a feeling of how good or bad it's going to be in the end. And it's amazing how some things never change at the Mumbai Film Festival every year and keep up the feeling of familiarity for its loyal supporters. One regular feature is the technical problems in screening of the films, something which is saved by the second feature - which is the line-up of some truly amazing movies. Today's day was typical of the Mumbai Fest.

The show of Michael Haneke's 'Amour' (2012), the most eagerly awaited movie of this festival, was cancelled, leaving hundreds of disappointed faces. The delegates rushed to other movies and hence it became difficult to get entry to the other movies of choice. Not having many options, I gambled on 'Captive' (2011), based on the Dos Palmas hostage crisis in Philippines in 2001. Despite being an ordinary film, it had certain moments that left me pleased. One of them was a shot of a baby being born, live, before our eyes. As it appeared out of its mother's birth canal, it did satisfy some of those guilty pleasures that we always want to experience.

The mismanagement continued, as the next film was delayed by 45 minutes. Finally, when it played, the subtitles were not correctly synchronized. Despite that I liked the film - Pasolini's acclaimed 'Accattone' (Italy, 1961). There is something about great films. They might be difficult to watch, but you easily recognize that there is something of true merit in it. As a group of unemployed starving youths try to laugh away their frustration, I made a note of these lines uttered by one of them: "But what's hunger really? A bad habit. It' all in the mind."

The next film was the eternal silent classic by F.W. Murnau - 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans' (1928), perhaps the 'greatest' film of this festival going by its historical acclaim. I had watched it for the first time on my laptop a couple of years ago. Recently it was voted by 'Sight and Sound' as the fifth greatest film of all time, and that inspired me to revisit it, especially because it was being screened at Liberty, where the decor of the theater does transport you back in time. And what an amazing experience it was! This film must be the mother of all romantic melodramas. I kept smiling, looking at the chemistry between the lead pair on screen, and enjoyed a love-story after a long, long time.

After 'Sunrise', I felt content - that my day had been nice. I didn't know what was in store for me. And as the wonderful child actor mesmerized the audience with his brilliant performance in the immensely entertaining Dutch drama 'Kauwboy' (2012), the country's official entry for the upcoming Oscars, I wondered at what cinema can achieve. The unfortunate climax left the crowd gasping. As the last scene unfolded, the lady beside me was weeping inconsolably. And I was smiling - thanking cinema in my heart for all those pleasures that it brings with itself, and gives us first-hand taste of experiences that we would not necessarily have otherwise. When movies move, they do that badly. And then we love to laugh and cry!

October 21, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #2: Redemptions

Five movies in a day! Finally, after a long time, I did hit the perfect score!

The first three were all made by debutante directors. The Mongolian film, 'The First Aggregate' (2012) was truly 'interesting' - a term which is an essential ingredient of any festival experience. It had some brilliant moments, scattered along its vague, incoherent design. Movies like these make you feel you are at a film fest. 

It was followed by a touching Brazilian drama, 'Father's Chair' (2011). I wonder how many 'road movies' we can watch, that explore the themes of love and longing, coming-of-age, and redemption, without getting bored. If a film is well-made, it can reinvent the father-son tale and make it look fresh. This film was stunning in its use of images.

The third film of the day was an Argentinian drama on eight days in the life of a weight-lifter, eight days that change his destiny. 'From Tuesday to Tuesday' (2012) was one powerful film.

Modern Japanese Master Takeshi Kitano's 'Outrage Beyond' (2012) was eagerly anticipated. Though it must be one of his weakest films, just a couple of scenes made my day. And it also made watching the fifth movie of the day much, much easy.

The film of the day was undoubtedly 'Rust and Bone' (French, 2012). Featuring the amazing Marion Cotillard, it was engaging, entertaining, and inspiring. Telling the unusual love story of an amateur fighter and a killer-whale trainer, it had some truly 'cinematic' moments, those that make you gasp and cry.

Already feeling sleep deprived. Travelling down to Nariman Point and back takes time!

October 20, 2012

Mumbai 2012 Day #1: Bismillah!

What a great start to the ritual of the year. Mumbai film festival is back and I’ll force myself to write this blog post every late night despite a hectic day, and a lot of travel.

After starting the day with a very mainstream thriller, ‘Childish Games’ (Spanish, 2011), at Inox, Nariman Point, I rushed to Liberty. The old-world charm of that theater was perfect for the film that was to follow – Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (Italian, 1963). It was a long and difficult film to watch, but the restored print enhanced the colours on the screen so brilliantly that eventually, and also for several other reasons, I ended up loving the film. It might be difficult to watch a greater film this festival.

It was followed by Vittorio Di Sicca’s neo-realistic gem, ‘Umberto D’ (1952), which was less sentimental and more playful than his ‘Bicycle Thieves’, but evoked similar response.

The fourth film of the day was the silent Indo-German classic ‘Throw of Dice’ (1929) by Franz Osten. The best part of the screening was the 15-piece Live Orchestra that played with the film, German musicians playing Indian tunes on Western instruments. The standing ovation that they received after the screening is the longest and most overwhelming I’ve ever seen. I was proud to be a part of that audience who kept applauding the musicians for several minutes.

It has been a beautiful beginning. Wondering what the next six days are going to bring to me.

October 07, 2012

Must Watch Before You Die #32: The Turin Horse (2011)

I do not find it easy to recommend very fresh movies under this title of "must-watch". Generally, I play it safe by recommending those which have stood the test of time. However, today I'm naming a film, that will join the list of great movies as the youngest member. Bela Tarr's 'The Turin Horse' is also, perhaps, the hardest to watch among those I've recommended in the list.

It is long - two and a half hours. And it has only 30 shots. So, on an average, each shot is five minutes in length. Shot in black and white, it barely has any dialogues. There is one monotonous background music being played throughout the film. There are only two main characters, and the entire film is set in one location. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, most people will turn it off. Those who won't may just witness one great cinematic accomplishment.

This is perhaps the most minimalistic film I've seen. There have been films set in one location, films without many cuts, films with minimal characters and dialogues. But by shooting it in black and white, using just one wide-angle lens throughout, with only a couple of very slow zoom-ins and outs, and using a powerful but monotonous sound design, the film deliberately and successfully creates an experience devoid of any story or overt dramatic or emotional moments. The film doesn't bother to take us close to the characters, or the actors playing them. However, it creates a stunning impact on you, and communicates its message so strongly that it is unlikely you will ever forget it.

I watched it over 24 hours, in three sittings. But when it ended, I wanted more of it. 'The Turin Horse' is pure cinematic bliss. If you can sit through it, you'll cherish it forever.