October 22, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #7: The Best Day Saved for the Last

Five more movies. The last day. The total score goes up to 33. The festival comes to an end. And how amazingly!

Theeb (2014/ UAE-Jordan-Qatar) by Naji Abu Nowar set the perfect tone for the day. What stunning landscape. Great sound and music. Really, really liked the film. It had won Best Director at Venice Horizons this year.

Coming Home (2014/ China) by Yimou Zhang was for me the most moving film. A heart-wrenching story of a domestic family torn by the Cultural Revolution, it proved once again why its director is onr of the most revered Asian filmmakers today.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014/ China) by Yi'nan Diao was a glorious tribute to the Noir tradition of Hollywood of the 40s. A fallen cop, a femme fatale, and an ending that remains devastating despite the mystery being solved. Loved its writing - operating within genre space is not easy. And was absolutely stunned by its cinematography. This Golden Bear winner at Berlin this year was a very special film for me, if not so for others. It had also won Best Actor award at Berlin.

Nymphomaniac I and II (2013/ Denmark and others) was my most eagerly awaited movie of this festival. And did it reach upto my expectations? Boy, it surpassed it. Firstly, this was the most personal film I watched this year - only Lars Von Trier could have made this, his authorship is evident in every minute of its five and half hours of run-time. Secondly, I never thought this film could be such an involving and entertaining essay on human society that it was. So playful, apart from being explicit and shocking. And most importantly, especially to someone who has followed the maker and his previous films, it was almost like an open-letter to his detractors about why he is the way he is - an eccentric, unapologetic, shameless genuis. I could not have asked for any other film to end my festival experience.

October 21, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #6: Genre Rules

Watched four movies today, taking the six day total score to 28. I really want to end up at 33, equalling my last year's total. Somehow, after the 5th and the 6th days, I am feeling satisfied with this year's experience. Some very special movies have made it happen. And the last day is supposed to be awesome. Also, now the trailers Devanshu and I made for the festival are playing before every screening. You can watch them by clicking here.

The movies that I watched today were:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014/ Iran) by Ana Lily Amirpour: An Iranian film. Designed in B&W, like a Western, with great music, and a Vampire love story as its text. Can it get more surprising than this? It seems the film decided to change the image of Iranian cinema single-handedly. What style! What fun! I can watch it all over again. On big screen.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970/ Italy) by Elio Petri: A restored classic. I am so glad I decided to watch these classics. Five minutes into the film and you know what you are watching is so much better than most recent movie. Very unusual crime drama. Very interestingly done. Had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for that year.

Macondo (2014/ Austria) by Sudabeh Mortezai: Very involving coming-of-age story of an 11 year old Chechnyan refugee living with his Mom and two kid sisters. Wonderful performances.

Schimbare (2014/ Spain) by Alex Sampayo: This is a thriller that grows slowly and steadily before exploding into a devastating climax. However, because of its subject and the violence depicted in it, some in the audience could not react favourably to it. I feel sorry for them. Seriously. Because this indeed was a very, very well-made film.

October 20, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #5: Mavericks for Rescue

So, overall I was not very happy with the movies I watched during the first four days of the festival, especially because last year had been so special. And this morning, I hit a new low with Early Spring, Kyoto (Japan/ 2014) by Hiroshi Toda. The film improved by the time it ended, but it remains the weakest movie I have watched in these five days.

I badly needed to rescue myself from this now. I needed an effective and quick redemption. And I decided to watch a classic despite having not booked the ticket for it. The seats were empty and I didn't have any problem entering. So I watched A Few Days from the Life of Oblomov (Soviet Union/ 1980) by Nikita Mikhalkov. What a wonderful dramedy it was? The triumph of a good story, and classical cinematic techniques. This was how the fate of my day turned in my favour.

Because the next movie was supremely engaging, brilliantly written, and wonderfully performed by its players. It was Omar (Palestine/ 2013) by Hany Abu-Assad. What a heartbreaking film about love and betrayal set amidst the Palestinian conflict. There was some technical problem during the screening that first left us disappointed, but then got solved. However, this caused a delay that made me miss my next movie, Goodbye to Language.

And thank God for that. Because, I went in to watch Kim Ki-Duk's latest instead, One on One (South Korea/ 2014). It was such an entertaining film. Watching it with more than 200 people made it even more enjoyable. The day had already been very nice so far. But the best was yet to come.

They say I should not keep in mind the fact that a 25-year old has made this film and judge it despite of that. How can I do that? Especially when every minute of this brilliantly crafted, insanely entertaining, deeply moving film reminds you of the passion and the genius of the man behind it? Mommy (Canada/ 2014) is not only among the very best films of this festival or this year, it will always be remembered for its boldness of craft and content, and an audacity that is endearing and awe-inspiring at the same time. Take a bow, Xavier Dolan. See you at the Oscars this time, representing Canada.

October 19, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #4: The French Connection

Had to miss one movie today because of something that came up at the last moment. I was really upset with the thought that I would be not scoring 35 movies this time as well, but then a friend said: "Make room for life" and that brought a smile on my face that erased all doubts. I will never regret missing one movie. And I think I will always remember this one line, when ever in doubt.

So, 19 movies in four days. Not a bad score at all. And the fours movies of today were all in the French language.

Two Days, One Night (Belgium/ 2014) by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: '12 Angry Men' meets 'The Bicycle Thief' in modern Belgium, with the impeccable Marion Cotillard as the protagonist. How a character apparently good only to evoke pity rises and unfolds into a tremendously admirable human. How a plot that does not have too many options and only one of two possible endings plays with the expectations of the audience. Writing text-book.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (France/ 1964) by Jacques Demy: Classics will be classics. Film will be film. This kind of a musical may not be palatable for many in the audience, but I loved it unconditionally. Had won top prize at Cannes and was nominated for five Oscars.

Party Girl (France/ 2014) by Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis: Camera d'Or winner at Cannes this year, which is the award for Best Debut film for the director(s). Such well-developed characters, so effectively shot. Generated unanimous praise.

Life of Riley (France/ 2014) by Alain Resnais: Winner of FIPRESCI prize and Alfred Bauer (for opening 'new perspectives in cinematic art') award at Berlin this year. Last film by the legendary Alain Resnais.

Mumbai 2014 Day #3: Cultures and Communities

Stations of the Cross (Germany/ 2014) by Dietrich Bruggemann: A film in only 14 shots. Brilliant performances. Tremendously involving narrative. Won screenplay award at Berlin this year. And yes, a film on religion is an essential ingredient of the festival week.

Difret (Ethiopia/ 2014) by Zeresenay Berhane: There is something about true stories. In the end when the little girl says, "I don't feel like Ive won anything", I could feel a sudden rush of emotions within me. Very important film. And well-made too. Won 'audience awards' at Sundance and Berlin this year.

Broken Hill Blues (Sweden/ 2014) by Sofia Norlin: A loosely-woven mood piece set in a small mining community in North Sweden. The director was present, and very candidly admitted that she wanted to make this 'crochet-like' film without any clear narrative. Also answered my question regarding not opting for a wider scope ratio because there were certain interior scenes where she wanted more intimate compositions.

Barf (Iran/ 2014) by Mehdi Rahmani: One day in the life of a crisis-ridden family as they prepare for the daughter's engagement. Wonderful characters. Lot of humor. Without losing the touch with truth and reality. The similarity with my feature script and this is uncanny.

Blind Massage (China/ 2014) by Lou Ye: Perhaps the most original piece of work I have seen out of all 15 movies in three days. From content to craft, it had so much to offer. Took time to grow, but its hangover has been tremendous. Won 'Outstanding Artistic Contribution' for its cinematography at Berin 2014, and rightly so.

October 17, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #2: Perfect Scores, Imperfect Choices

Despite not keeping very well, I've managed to watch ten movies in two days, mainly because of the venue being so close to my place, and this online reservation system that I really, really like. It brings down the stress levels to the minimum and you get so much more time to enjoy the festival, meeting more people, taking breaks to eat, and relax.

The five movies that I watched on the second day were:

Corn Island (Georgia/ 2014) by George Ovashvili: Georgia's official entry to the Oscars, this film with minimal dialogue is a stunning document of an old man inhabiting a little river island to grow corn. It was so well shot, and the sound design was very effective. However, the final few minutes of the film left me unsatisfied.

The Little House (Japan/ 2014) by Yoji Yamada: The only Yamada film I had watched before this was 'The Twilight Samurai' (2002) and I hadn't liked it much. But I absolutely loved 'The Little House'. It was a DVD projection and the first few minutes were off-putting, but as someone has said - the most important thing in a film is the story. As the story took over, it moved me, and pleased me, and left me completely satisfied. The actress Haru Kiroki, who played the young Taki had won Best Actress at Berlin this year for her performance.

The Third Side of the River (Argentina/ 2014) by Celina Murga: Honestly, I think I could have avoided this film. It was well-made and the performances were very real. But the story itself was not very involving. Moreover, we have seen so many films about teenage angst that it didn't have anything new to offer.

Clownwise (Slovakia-Czech Republic/ 2013) by Viktor Taus: This film has emerged as the revelation of the festival so far, generating unanimous response among the audience. And the love it is receiving is very deserving. Great characters, put in an interesting situation, with a stunning and surprising use of camera, edit, music, and sound. A perfect film for big screen. A perfect film for a festival, or otherwise.

Beloved Sisters (Germany/ 2014) by Dominik Graf: Germany's official entry into the Oscars this year, this film is an epic period piece about two sisters unusually and willingly falling in love with the same guy. Some very interesting craft-related decisions, and some extremely well written scenes make this really long film an easier watch. I do not personally like costume dramas much, but if you like those, this is a film for you. The Academy might just love it. I won't be surprise to see it in the top five early next year.

Honestly speaking, I am feeling a little underwhelmed after watching the first ten movies at the festival. I really need some really amazing movies on the third day, some truly memorable ones.

October 16, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #1: A New Beginning

After watching more than 150 movies in the first five years of my experience at Mumbai film festival, I think it goes without saying what a heartbreak it was to know a couple of months ago that the festival might just not take place this time due to lack of funds. You know what was the first thing that came to my mind? That I'd take one week off during January and attend the Pune film festival. (Not Goa because that would be a little too expensive for me.) But thanks to all those who supported the festival and soon it became a movement - to save this cities biggest and the country's one of the most important film festival. I am filled with gratitude toward all those who contributed toward the cause, making possible what I believe is the happiest, craziest, most exciting week of the year.

So, it was a new beginning for the festival. And it was a new beginning for my relationship with it. Devanshu and I were contacted by Shakun Batra (the director of 'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu' and now a very dear friend) to direct a promo for the festival. It was simple. All of us, including the twelve celebrities that feature in that 40-sec promo worked for free, to send out a message that there a lot of people who care for it. It was super fun shooting the promo, and I must thank Anupama Chopra and Shakun for this wonderful opportunity. I must also thank my crew, who worked on it for free, only to support us in what we were doing. This could not have happened without their unconditional help. You can watch the promo by clicking here.

And that's why this year the excitement regarding the festival started a few weeks earlier than ever before. We also felt that this is going to be our little contribution to it, and hence went on to shoot a few more promos, getting up early morning for it, even travelling out of the city, taking more favours from friends, and managing it with all other work of ours that we had to complete before the first day of the festival. Then came the bad news. One day before the festival had to begin, I fell ill. We all know how irritating a common viral ailment can be. In this October heat, it was more irritating than ever. I was scared that it might just ruin all these days of excitement. Missing even a single day at the festival was not acceptable to me. The knowledge that viral illnesses cannot be cured by any medicine and no anti-pyretic, anti-biotic drug you give can ‘cure’ you until the self-limiting ailment completes its cycle – did not help. The knowledge that rest and hydration is the best medicine in such scenario did. I also received a couple of messages from people who know how important the festival is for me – one motivating me to get perfectly well so that I can hit the perfect score of 35. So yes, I decided to miss the opening ceremony, and the party after that and slept. By morning, perhaps I was actually better or it was just an effect of adrenaline, I was fine. And thus I scored a perfect five on the first day of my favourite festival.

Before I head out for my second day, let me quickly tell you what in these movies made them contribute to the festival experience. The five movies I watched on Day 1 are:

Over Your Dead Body (Japan/ 2014) by Takashi Miike: Play within a movie. Excellent set-design and cinematography. Surrealism. Body horror. Glimpses of the Japan of the past. A mix of all this was the perfect opening movie for me. Plus the name of the director!

Refugiado (Argentina/ 2014) by Diego Lerman: The directing in this movie was so impressive – the choice of shots and edit, visual design, use of actors, and for creating moments of genuine thrill among the audience. I would be proud of myself if I could direct like this.

Norjmaa (China/ 2014) by Bayaneruul: A breathtaking landscape is good enough to give you an unforgettable cinematic experience. Add to it some local cultural customs, and a couple of interesting characters. An important anti-war film that also inspires in you the need to get closer to nature and to learn to co-exist with it.

Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel/ 2014) by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz: Israel’s official entry to the Oscars this year, the entire movie is set in a room and the space outside it. The way it made the audience react proves once again that all you need to move us is well-done characters. This will be one of the most sought-after movies of the year.

Boyhood (USA/ 2014) by Richard Linklater: No words can do justice to this experience. And if I try to say something really big about it, it might just set a wrong expectation for you. But I can tell you with all confidence that ‘Boyhood’ is unlike anything you have seen before. Shot over 12 years, the ageing of its characters creates an incredible impact over you. Some might think it was a bit too long, I personally did not want it to end. The movie is a work of pure passion and persistence, led by the maverick Linklater and supported by a wonderful cast and crew. That moving pictures are the best interpreters of reality – this film is the most glorious example of it. And for what it does without getting too dramatic or spectacular or profound, but by sheer insight into the human condition, apart from being an unforgettable film project, I have to recommend ‘Boyhood’ as a must watch before you die (#42). If you can let yourself be immersed in this unbelievable experience, you might just learn a thing or two about yourself, or might end up being a better son, a better daughter, a better parent. What more can we ask from films?