October 31, 2013

Mumbai 2013: Epilogue

This was my fifth year at Mumbai Film Festival. And by far, it was the most well-organised. Not that it was free of technical and management glitches, but an intelligent programming, allocating more shows to the "hottest" films and in theatres with larger capacities, and the introduction of the online reservation of seats made it more pleasant than all its previous editions. I, personally, was apprehensive about the online booking system. But it worked! It was simple and much more comfortable than waiting in the queues for long hours. All you had to do was book your seats as soon as the window opened for the respective day, and then be there fifteen minutes before the show began. This ensured two things - every morning, we knew which movies we are going to watch that day, without bothering to run around fighting for entry or seats. And two, since it saved the time we would have otherwise spent on queues, we could grab something to eat, or just take care of other personal matters without the fear of losing the chance to watch those films. Also, if you logged in late and the movie of your choice is booked, you can at least book some other movie and come to peace with the fact, unlike before when we stood in queues for hours and then were told that the show is full and then realised that we cannot even go to another show as it has already started. What I also liked about this system was that it did not allow seats going empty, as I initially feared. Every show had a few dozens seats booked by those who never turned up. Before the show started, those seats were given to people who wanted to watch that movie but could not book online. Overall, it is a welcome move by the organisers, and all it requires from us is to book the seats for our favourite choices well in advance.

So yes. A successful festival. I watched 33 movies, my second highest score, after 34 in 2009. The list included the latest offerings of film-makers like Takashi Miike, Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-Liang, Richard Linklater, Francois Ozon, Michel Gondry, Jafar Panahi, Coen Brothers, Philippe Garrel, and Leos Carrax. This time I also watched three documentaries. You must watch "Who is Dayani Crystal" and "The Act of Killing" if non-fiction interests you. The screening of "Sulemani Keeda" made by my friends was fun, especially to see the audience react to something we have been associated for a long time now. Also, for the first time the competition movies selected and watched by me ended as award winners. And the restored print of Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece - "Tokyo Story" completed the experience.

People generally assume festival films to be intense and difficult to watch. However, I watched at least six superbly entertaining, extremely well-made films that can cheer you up whenever you watch them. Please go for these if you want to have a good time. Click on the names to watch the trailers:
And if you are looking for some fine modern cinema, and are willing to indulge, or are eager to experiment, and are ready for some sincere, patient viewing, you must watch these:
In 2009, I had watched the unforgettable "Los Bastardos". His next feature film, "Heli" brought the director Amat Escalante the Best Director award at Cannes, and is Mexico's official entry for the Oscars next year. Escalante, who is only three films old, has come up strongly as a director to watch, and each of his next works will be eagerly awaited. This is a new pleasure I discovered, of such festivals - discovering new film-makers whom the world is discovering with you and then hope that more of their films will come to your city in the years to come. Having watched more than 150 films in the last five editions of Mumbai Film Festival, the wait for "Mumbai 2014" has already begun...

October 28, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #7: Ending on a High!

It is very important for a festival to end well, or for anything to end well, for that matter. Since you can not predict the qualities of individual movies in such festivals, it is always a risk you take by making your choices. As always, a well-informed choice is generally a better choice. I was expecting the final day to be good, because some of the most high-profile movies were left. But I had no idea it will be such a great day that it will actually conclude my festival on such a high note.

"Vic+Flo Saw a Bear" (Canada/ 2013) by Denis Cote was an impressive "festival" film that started my final day. Of course, same-sex love stories are a very common feature of today's cinema. But this film successfully created a powerful crime drama with such a backdrop, without bothering to answer too many questions.

"Bekas" (Sweden-Finland-Iraq/ 2013) by Karzan Kader is a film I would recommend to anyone. A heart-warming adventure-comedy involving two little brothers from Iraq who set out for "America" completely deserved the tremendous applause it received. Watch it as soon as you can.

This extreme positive reaction from the audience continued all through the day, with "The Rocket" (Australia-Laos-Thailand/ 2013) by Kim Mordaunt and "Ilo Ilo" (Singapore/ 2013) Anthony Chen. Both first films by their respective film-makers, and both official entries at the Oscars by their respective countries (Australia and Singapore) are among the most talked-about films this year. And both were extremely well-made, sensitive films, that very easily inspired an overwhelming applause from the audience.

And then, my final film of the festival. I had watched it last year, and the opportunity to watch it again on big screen was just too tempting. More importantly, it is the perfect closing film for any week-long celebration of cinema. "Holy Motors" (France/ 2012) by Leos Carax is a mad odyssey, an indulgent but grand tribute to the medium of cinema, as well as to the life and work of actors. Last year, I had almost recommended this film as a must-watch-before-you-die, but I didn't, as I wanted to be very sure before I did that. This time, I am sure. If there is one film out of the 33 I watched this festival that I would call a must-watch, it is this. (#39)

P.S. This post is late by a few days, as it talks about the 7th day of the festival, that is 24th October.

October 27, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #6: The 2009 score will remain untouched...

'Picasso's Gang' (Spain/ 2012) by Fernando Colomo did not impress me as much as its first ten minutes had promised to. But, in the end, this stylish period-drama that blended fact and fiction for good humour worked well.

Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy' (France/ 2013) was undoubtedly very impressive in its 77 minutes of beautiful black and white run-time. Only, it did not try to do something exceptional. And since I have recently discovered Garrel, I was left a little underwhelmed.

Yasujiro Ozu's 'Tokyo Story' (Japan/ 1953) is perhaps the greatest movie playing this festival, going by its reputation. It is also going to be the only classic I'll watch. Watching it for the second time, I was thoroughly interested in trying to decipher the reason behind its stature, and the only reasons that come to mind are the universal story, the true performances, and the pacing that almost takes you to the world of the two elderly leads.

The film of the day was 'Good to Go' (Slovenia-Croatia/ 2013) by the debutant director Matevz Luzar. The story of Ivan, a retired music teacher in his late 70s, is several times more entertaining than what its first few minutes would suggest. The film keeps surprising you with its brilliant writing and performances, and it was fun to cheer for the characters with the audience.

I could watch only four films today as I had to attend a meeting. This means, I won't be able to watch 34 movies this festival and my record of 2009 will remain untouched. It's really incredible how I managed it back then, travelling from Dahisar to Andheri. Sheer madness!

P.S. This post is late by a few days, as it talks about the 6th day of the festival, that is 23rd October.

October 23, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #5: Outlaws and Outcasts

A movie-puzzle is a must at any film festival. And this one blended fact and fiction, including the house-arrest of Jafar Panahi and the 20-year ban on film-making that the director is facing in Iran, into a surrealistic film - 'Closed Curtains' (Iran/ 2013) that also won Best Screenplay at Berlin.

An effective mood-piece, this story about a young boy finding companionship only in his dog, but it left me desiring a lot. Perhaps it was good that I wasn't very involved during this film, as an idea hit me and I got busy developing it into a film story. 'My Dog Killer'' (Slovakia-Czech Republic/ 2013) by Mira Fornayova.

A very shocking shot of graphic violence stunned the audience today in this film. I was not surprised, and was waiting for something like this. Amat Escalante did not disappoint. However, I think the Best Director award that he won at Cannes was because of reasons beyond those violent scenes. 'Heli' (Mexico/ 2013) is definitely one of the most powerful films of this year.

The sixteenth film by the Coen brothers. And since I have watched all their previous films, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (USA/ 2013) was eagerly awaited. Grand Prix winner at Cannes, this film shows yet again how the Coens have managed to create their unique authorship despite operating in Hollywood, with almost all resources and stars at their disposal. They can make a very mainstream film, but they seem to be happy exploring new dimensions in their own cinema.

However, the highlight of the day was 'La jaula de oro' (Mexico/ 2013) by Diego Quemada-Diez. A Certain Talent Prize for the ensemble at Cannes this year, this film managed to keep us involved throughout its 100-minute run-time, despite most of the audience being exhausted after a long day. A hard-hitting story of illegal immigrants from South America to the US, I was benefited by the documentary on the same topic that I had watched on the second day of the festival. The film received an applause that few films have received this year.

Five days are gone, just two more to go. And tomorrow, I won't be able to watch five movies as I have to go for a meeting. I hope the four that I watch are such that I don't regret anything. Night!

October 22, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #4: All the Beautiful Things in Life

This is the sixth film festival I am attending (Pune 2008 and Mumbai 2009 to 2013). And finally today, I saw my name up there on the screen. Produced and directed by some of my dearest friends, "Sulemani Keeda" (2013/ Amit Masurkar) had a successful packed-house screening. A song written by my brother and me features in the film, hence the credit.

With 'Blue is the Warmest Color' (France/ 2013) by Abdellatif Kechiche, the most eagerly awaited movie of this festival, this day was definitely going to be special. I did love the film, but there were some pleasant surprises beyond it. '3X3D' (France-Portugal/ 2013), an experimental anthology of three short films by Peter Greenaway, Edgar Pera, and Jean-Lud Godard was a pure sensory experience, and especially Greenaway's film was stunning. 'Tonnerre' (France/ 2013) by Guillaume Brac was an involving, well-made debut by the director. However, the biggest surprise was this American film, 'Short Term 12' (2013). It made me laugh. It made me cry. Its characters inspired and amused me. It entertained me in every way, and its writing was something I would like to revisit to learn a thing or two, or more. Possibly, the best film I have watched in the last four days, the best out of 19. If there is any other film that can beat this one, I would be overwhelmed by this festival. Really hope it happens!

October 21, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #3: Death Stories

'The Act of Killing' (2012) by Joshua Oppenheimer: I had absolutely no clue about the massacre of "communists" in Indonesia and that until now the people who committed those crimes are not punished and take pride, and openly so, in having sone that. This documentary was unforgettable.

'Layla Fourie' (2013) by Pia Marais: A woman who never lies, and has just taken the job of a lie detector, runs down a man and then struggles to save herself and her little son by, obviously, concealing the truth.

'Young and Beautiful' (2013) by Francois Ozon: Not a single French film in the first eleven! Of course, French Cinema had to be back with vengeance. And when it comes to a subject like this - a 17-year old girl loses virginity at a beach party, and then very soon starts living the secret life of a call girl - no one can do it better than the French, and especially, Ozon.

'Mood Indigo' (2013) by Michel Gondry: French again. And Gondry takes you to an unparalleled, unprecedented journey of imaginative story-telling. Not too much of story, but lots and lots of imagination - original, unforgettable.

'The Major' (2013) by Yury Bykov: This Russian film had a thrilling premise. Rashly driving to meet her wife in labour, a Major from the police force runs over a seven-year old kid, in front of his mother. The entire force - his seniors and juniors - are more than eager to twist facts and save him, but will his conscience allow this? And how far will he go to walk the difficult path of righteousness?

Three days. 14 movies. Good going.

October 20, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #2: Masters Take Charge

I have to write this real quick and then go to sleep. So, I'll try to keep it short.

Perhaps it is the effect of the non-fiction reading I've been doing for the last few weeks that I find myself keen on watching documentaries this festival, something I always avoided in its previous editions. And the two that I saw today, both winners at Sundance 2013, did impact me strongly. 'A River Changes Course' takes us into the lives of the people in a village in Cambodia, and 'Who is Dayani Cristal' narrates a moving story of the death of an illegal immigrant from Honduras to the US, and eventually asks more general and significant questions. The revelation in the end, about the title, is so touching that I was left with tears in my eyes.

But mainly, it was the day that completely fulfilled my cinephile craving. Five movies and all good ones. Three of them were the latest movies by some of the most acclaimed film-makers of our time, who have already acquired the status of legends.

Jia Zhangke's Cannes Best Screenplay winner 'A Touch of Sin' (China/ 2013) was an anthology of four stories and each provided pleasures of high degree. The bullets fired in this film were so impactful that I shrieked when one of those cracked open the head of one. Loved those moments.

Richard Linklater's third part of what I call the best romantic film-trilogy ever, 'Before Midnight' (USA/ 2013) had all that I was expecting, and more. More than the cinematic pleasures, it gave me a lot of insight about humans and relationships, and also the belief that being able to engage in meaningful and sensible conversation with your partner is perhaps the most efficient way of handling your relationship. Hearing out your partner with respectful and sincere keenness, and talking sensibly and sensitively is more powerful than the usual "virtues" of love, trust, and the ability to "give".

However, the movie of the day, for me, was Tsai Ming-Liang's difficult, compelling, and unforgettable - 'Stray Dogs' (Taiwan/ 2013). It reminded me of 'The Turin Horse' and, in a way, 'Eraserhead', apart from the maker's earlier classic 'Vive l'amour'. Some of the shots in this film were among the most testing I have experienced as a film-buff. There was in fact a 14-minute shot where two characters were simply staring at a wall. And then can one ever forget the brilliant cabbage-eating scene? A festival experience remains incomplete unless you have at least one film like this.

The warming up is over. It's time to indulge completely now!

October 19, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #1: Deja vu

The return of the annual festival. Same known faces, and the number keeps increasing every year. Cinemax Versova being a venue for the third consecutive year. Same old technical problems, which are truly a trademark of our festival. And a first day that leaves you guessing about the next six days to follow. Despite the introduction of, and what is an effective step, I must say, the online reservation of shows, Mumbai Film Festival's first day was very much a deja vu for me.

'In the Name of' (Poland/ 2013) by Malgoska Szumowska was the opening movie for me. I must mention that all the new learnings of the year give you some enhanced perspective of cinema during this annual festival. For example, I was very curious to know what camera must have been used to shoot this film, and how the sets have been lit, and what is the general lensing and camera equipment being used. Hence, this film, with excellent cinematography and sound design (except for a couple of instance of background score that didn't go well with me), rose above its content and writing.

'Matterhorn' (Netherlands/ 2013) by Diederik Ebbinge followed. When the first two movies are from Poland and Netherlands, you do feel good. And this dramedy was a certain success among the audience. Also, it is incredible to see the first-time film-makers from abroad doing so well. The competition out there is really tough.

The third film was interrupted due to problems with the projection and when it was played in an adjacent screen, I had to leave it to attend the next film.

'All is Lost' (USA/ 2013) by JC Chandor proved yet again that movies are often provide surrogate emotional experiences that you don't have every day. Survival and fear of death was so closely felt in this single-character, almost dialogue-less film that I could hardly focus on the craft. And the film, despite the terrifying journey it showed, did inspire me to undertake one lonely voyage of my own. Some day, may be...

Takashi Miike's 'Shield of Straw' (Japan/ 2013) was the perfect movie to close the day. A mainstream crime thriller, with a riveting situational and ethical conflict, kept me on the edge of my seat. The final act was a little underwhelming, but I won't complain, as I was thoroughly entertained by then.

The bad news is that I won't be able to score 35 this year too, as I am already one movie behind (thanks to the technical problem). Also, the overall quality of the movies today was not the best you get to see at such festivals. The good news is that tomorrow might just be an unforgettable day in my life as a cinephile, thanks to the brilliant line-up. Going to bed now, to take some rest and gear up for the second day. Ciao!

October 11, 2013

Columbia Calling

It has been close to five years since I started this blog. And yesterday, for the first time, I enjoyed a somewhat "tangible" benefit out of all these years of sincere blogging. Before I write about that, let us go back 95 years, the year 1918...

Columbia Pictures - most of us recognize it by its logo of a woman holding a torch - one of the major film studios of all time, was founded in 1918. It was not before 1930 that it emerged as a prolific studio. But soon, with its association with director Frank Capra - 'It Happened One Night' (1934) and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939), among others - it rose to the stature of the "Little Three", behind only the "Big Five", thus being one of the top eight studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It also distributed major films like 'His Girl Firday' (1940), and the Orson Welles-directed 'The Lady from Shanghai' (1948). In the late 1940s, when new laws in the US forced the major studios to end "Vertical Integration", Columbia's status rose, as it did not own any theatres, and it soon replaced RKO as one of the major players. During the 50s, Columbia was producing around 40 films every year, and the list included three Best Picture Oscar winners - 'From Here to Enternity' (1953), 'On the Waterfront' (1954), and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957), apart from Lang's 'The Big Heat' (1953). The US distribution right of Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' (1954) was also acquired by this studio - a film that went on to influence American and world cinema like none other.

In the decades that followed, the studio was behind remarkable films from all genres, like 'A Man for All Seasons' (1966), 'Oliver!' (1968), 'Easy Rider' (1969), 'The Last Picture Show' (1971), 'Taxi Driver' (1976), 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979), 'Gandhi' (1982), 'The Big Chill' (1983), and 'Ghostbusters' (1984).

In the year 1989, the Japanese electronics giant Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Today, if you look at the Columbia logo, you will find the mention of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) at the bottom of it. With successful franchises like the James Bond and Spider Man movies, Columbia Pictures remains a vital and important part of our cinema consciousness. The first few years of the new millennium have been especially profitable for the studio. In 2007, 'Saawariya' became the first Hindi film to be backed by the studio. The commercial failure of the film, obviously, was a blow to all possibilities that had arose after this first collaboration. Today, Columbia Pictures is one of the six biggest studios in the world of cinema, along with Warner Bros., Fox, Disney, Paramount, and Universal.

But what has this got to do with my benefit as a blogger? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by the marketing team of Sony Pictures India and I was excited to know that they wished to include me in their list of Press and Bloggers for whom they conduct preview screenings to spread word about the upcoming releases. Yesterday, I got to watch the latest Tom Hanks starrer, 'Captain Philips' (2013). Directed by Paul Greengrass ('Bourne Supremacy', 'Bourne Ultimatum', 'United 93'), this superbly involving marine thriller releasing worldwide today is your absolute weekend entertainer. Watch it for the engaging and clever writing by Billy Ray (of the 'The Hunger Games' fame). And once the film is about to end and you feel it was worth all the money, keep watching for the touching finale where Tom Hanks reaffirms why he is what he is known for. Scenes like these are generally the difference between a regular thriller, and those that stay with you for a longer time.