November 10, 2015

MAMI 2015: Epilogue

The morning of 6th November was a sad morning. When MAMI ends, it is always depressing. Everything feels dull. And the heart longs for more of that madness. This time I was sadder than ever. However, there is a reason why the festival must end. Not only there is a limit to one's mental and physical exhaustion, there is work to do. Watching all these films during this week inspires and humbles you at the same time. And it is important that you use this feeling to create something. Perhaps for the first time in all seven editions of this festival, I started work on the very first morning. A New Year has begun for me. And despite the sadness, life goes on. It must.

My first MAMI was in 2009. The seven editions of the festival have made me watch 217 movies. For the record, here is the breakup: 2009 (34), 2010 (27), 2011 (28), 2012 (31), 2013 (33), 2014 (33), and 2015 (31). An average of 31 movies per festival. That sounds reasonably good.

So as we wait for MAMI 2016, which begins on the 20th of October, here are my recommendations from this year's festival. I have divided the recommendations into four categories. Read on to know why.

Despite watching several good movies, I could not watch some which generated very strong response from the audience. So I'm recommending these films based on what I heard: 

  • Land and Shade (2015/ Colombia) by Cesar Augusto Acevedo: Camera d'Or winner at Cannes
  • Room (2015/ Canada-Ireland) by Lenny Abrahamson: People's Choice Award at Toronto
  • Taxi (2015/ Iran) by Jafar Panahi: Golden Bear winner at Berlin

Now, let me talk about those that I did see. Following are the movies which may be difficult to watch and those not exposed to the diversity of world cinema may not be able to endure it. But these are unique and highly rewarding experiences and I must recommend them:
  • Aferim! (2015/ Romania) by Radu Jude: a dark comedy cum road movie with a difference
  • Arabian Nights: Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (2015/ Portugal) by Miguel Gomes: extremely painful to watch with its runtime of 6 hours and 20 minutes but it is unlikely you will ever see anything like this
  • The Assassin (2015/ Taiwan) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien: very difficult to watch but once you get what the director is trying to do, you will enjoy it
  • Blood of My Blood (2015/ Italy) by Marco Bellocchio: weird, to say the least, but unforgettable
  • The Forbidden Room (2015/ Canada) by Guy Maddin: one of the most bizarre, self-indulgant and unique films ever made and, if you can bear it, one of the most entertaining

Then there were movies fairly accessible to a film-festival audience, but perhaps not that easy-to-watch for the uninitiated. Here goes the recommendation:
  • The Lobster (2015/ Ireland-UK-Greece-France-Netherlands) by Yorgos Lanthimos: brilliant concept and a sharp satire
  • My Mother (2015/ Italy) by Nanni Moretti: effortlessly moving, this movie is an understated masterpiece
  • Right Now, Wrong Then (2015/ South Korea) by Hong Sangsoo: unique structure and exceptional performances
  • Sleeping Giant (2015/ Canada) by Andrew Cividino: superbly entertaining and heartbreaking coming-of-age movie
  • Victoria (2015/ Germany) by Sebastian Schipper: the latest wonder in cinema
  • Youth (2015/ Italy) by Paolo Sorrentino: entertaining, insightful and pleasurable at every level

And then, there were some which are definite crowd-pleasers. If you love cinema, of any kind, it is likely that you will enjoy these movies. Reacting to these with hundreds of cinephiles will remain etched in my memory forever:
  • 45 Years (2015/ UK) by Andrew Haigh: a subdued but brilliant drama, more relatable than most movies
  • Anomalisa (2015/ USA) by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson: inventive and yet relatable
  • The Brand New Testament (2015/ Belgium) by Jaco Van Dormael: my favourite movie this year, more joyful, wonderful, beautiful, insightful and hopeful than most movies you have ever seen.
  • Microbe and Gasoline (2015/ France) by Michel Gondry: supremely endearing movie on teenage life and friendship
  • The Second Mother (2015/ Brazil) by Anna Muylaert: my second favourite movie of the festival, the balance of plot, performances, and emotions is perfect. 

November 07, 2015

MAMI 2015 Day 7: The Grand Finale

What a brilliant end to this year's festival! 

Michel Gondry's latest, 'Microbe and Gasoline', was an endearing crowd-pleaser and it was the perfect film to start the final day. Watching it with an egaer and enthusiastic audience just made it better. 

It was followed by Iceland's 'Virgin Mountain', another heart-warming story about a 45-year old virgin. Poignant and beautiful, the film had won Best Narrative Feature, Screenplay and Actor at Tribeca.

I then traveled all the way to South Mumbai to catch the last two shows at Regal. The German film, 'Victoria', is unlike anything you have seen before. A 135-minute shot telling the entire story, the film's cinematography won Silver Bear at Berlin for Outstanding Artistic Contribution. The more you think of this film, the more you are impressed by it. And I was especially affected by the film's use of time, rather than its use of space which also was, obviously, incredible. Cinephiles all around the world must be celebrating this film these days.

And I ended the festival with a re-watch of 'The Brand New Testament'. Why and how that happened - has been covered in a separate post.

The final day at MAMI is always very melancholic. And when it ends, it leaves me miserable. This year's end was similar, but its intensity was unmatched. I don't know if it is ever possible to top this closing experience. I don't know if I really want this to change - that the final evening at MAMI 2015 was the most beautiful and fulfilling finale I have experienced at a film-festival.

MAMI 2015 Day 6: Playing With Genres

Five more movies today. Takes the total to 27 in 6 days. Now I really feel good about it.

Ethiopia's Oscar entry, 'Lamb', is the story of a boy trying to protect his lamb from the world around him. It took time for the film to grow on me, but by the end, like all well-made coming-of-age story involving kids, it really worked.

I followed it with the third episode of the 'Arabian Nights' trilogy. It started fairly well, continuing with the tone of Part 2, but eventually took an extremely accessible turn. The entire 380-minute docu-drama project, for me, was an academic exercise. And very tough to watch. But I knew I had to do it, because it is unlikely I'll ever watch it on my own. An unforgettable, ambitious, and unique creation.

The Venezuelan film 'From Afar' was the Golden Lion winner at Venice this year. To be honest, that expectation did not allow me to love the film. It was very well-made but it is very tough for me to imagine that there were no better film at Venice.

'Right Now, Wrong Then' on the other hand completely justified its Golden Leopard and Best Actor awards at Locarno. Unique and original, entertaining and insightful, I'll never forget this South Korean film.

And we ended the day with the B-grade, gory, exploitative horror feast - 'Tag'. This Japanese film was so bad, and purposefully so, that we loved it. The opening sequence of the film will be remembered always by those who watched it in that theater. It was such a shock that the entire theater burst into laughter and applause. It is important for me to experience blood and gore and horror to complete my festival experience.

Let us see what the last day has in store.

P.S. The sixth day of the festival was on 4th November. Physical and mental exhaustion caused the delay in writing this post.

November 04, 2015

MAMI 2015 Day 5: Love, Life and Loneliness

If yesterday was weird, this morning was one of the weirdest experiences of my life as a film audience. 'The Forbidden Room' is unlike anything you have ever seen. You either get disgusted by it and pledge never to try watching it again. Or you enjoy it like one of the craziest, and most harmless, trip! If you do not believe me, check out this 2-min trailer of the film and then imagine the same to extend for 130 minutes. I must check out more works by its Canadian maker, Guy Maddin.

My decision to watch part two of 'Arabian Nights' paid off. This episode is Portugal's official entry for the Oscars and is far more accessible than part one. It has only made me extremely sure that I will definitely catch the third and the final part on Day 6.

'My Mother' by Nanni Moretti is, for those who have seen is earlier works, a beautiful extension of his kind of cinema, that deals with loss of a loved one. The film shows how inimitable Moretti is. Without using the tricks of the cinematic medium the way other masters do, and without relying on plot movement that can be manipulative, melodramatic, and eventually deciphered, he slowly tugs on your heartstrings and takes you through a moving experience. By the end, I had tears in my eyes and a deep pain in my chest. And still, I felt hopeful about love and life.

The film was also preceded by a very endearing and apt short animation called 'About a Mother' (2015/ Russia) by Dina Velikovskaya. And it was followed by the surprise hit of the festival, the Brazilian Oscar-entry, 'The Second Mother'. It generated unanimous applause and made us so, so happy. If there is one film from the 22 I have watched in these 5 days that I can recommend to anyone on this planet, film-buff or not, it has to be this.

I was not feeling very well - eating junk every day has started to trouble me. But 'The Second Mother' inspired me to stay on for the fifth movie of the day. Revitalized and excited, I entered to watch 'Sleeping Giant' by the first-time Canadian director Andrew Cividino. And thank God I did that. Because not only it was a special film with unforgettable moments, almost on the lines of 'Fish Tank' and 'Short Term 12', but also because the interaction with the director after the movie was very inspiring.

It has been a wonderful festival, finally. And this day's contribution has been immense. Whatever the last two days have to offer is bonus! Well, that doesn't mean I'm not greedy for more!

November 03, 2015

MAMI 2015 Day 4: Enchanting Colours of Absurdity

I do not consider a film-festival experience complete until it divides the audience and their opinions on the movies we have watched. The most expected form of contrasting opinions are formed over films with strong political statement, those with excruciatingly painful plot-movement and the rare gems of graphic sex and violence. But then, there are films, who are hated by many for just making no sense, for being weird, and absurd. And the same films are loved by many for the very same reasons. My fourth day at the festival and the five movies I watched today had all shades of absurdity. I will only mention what was absurd in these and you watch these at your own risk.

'Blood of My Blood' tells two stories set in the same location but belonging to two different era as well as genre. The first story is a drama, the second a vampire-comedy. There are several actors common in both. And both are connected by the themes of evil and the devil. The film also has a very unusual use of the Metallica track 'Nothing Else Matters'. I hope you love it, the way I did. Thank God I watched this film despite several of my friends dissuading me to watch it, those who had experienced it a few days ago.

'Arabian Nights: Volume 1 - The Restless One' started with several minutes of non-fiction footage and I was shocked. Because I had come to see Miguel Gomes' retelling of the classic tale. Then we saw him, in the film, abandoning the shoot and running away, until he was caught and about to be killed when he started the story. Blending fact with fiction in the most inventive ways, he has created this trilogy, the two remaining parts of which I will catch in the next two days. It was a very demanding film, and it caused the maximum number of walk-outs.

I'm so glad I decided to go for 'The Violin Player' - my only Indian film at the festival this year. It was a 70-minute film, one unusual day in the life of a struggling violinist in Mumbai. The entire suspense and its resolution, in the form of the movie that he plays the viloin to, was so different from any Hindi film that we see. It was the most accessible of all five films I watched today and and generated unanimous applause. It was also the least absurd.

'Anomalisa' followed. The animated story of a man's one-day professional trip that turns very unusual for him. To say the least, women don't sound like women to him any more, until a girl arrives. It is also, as Wikipedia says, an adult animation film! Where do you get that?

And then, my most eagerly awaited movies of the festival, and the best movie of the day - 'The Lobster'. It is set in a dystopian future where the norm of the world is that if you are single, you have to find a partner within forty-five days or you will be turned into an animal. On the other hand, there is a rebel group in which you can live without a partner for all your life. But if you are caught flirting or sharing a romantic or a sexual moment with anyone, you will be punished beyond your imagination. And in this scenario, a love story blooms!

17 movies in 4 days is a good score! I hope I reach the count of 30 this year as well. Insha Allah!

November 02, 2015

MAMI 2015 Day 3: Inspirations and Humility

12 movies in 3 days. Now, finally, I feel good about myself. Now I think I'm doing reasonably fine!

'The Assassin' is a difficult film to watch. But it is brilliant, to say the least. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the great Taiwanese master, won Best Director at Cannes for this film which is also Taiwan's Oscar entry this year. And although this film saw the maximum number of walk-outs that I have seen in the festival so far, I thought it was an inimitable recreation of the life and times of assassins and the rulers in the 9th century China, not just with the use of visuals and sound. But something else. The director decided to edit the film in two contrasting styles. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and then suddenly, almost inexplicably, we witness an attack. Only, it ends sooner that we could make sense of it and we are back to the 'nothingness' and the 'anticipation'. Also, we are not allowed clarity into what is happening. So we stay confused and uninformed. During that era, with obviously zero communication technology and long hours of inaction, this is how the people would have felt, right? I have seen several martial arts film from that region, but none has actually managed to transport the audience to that era the way 'The Assassin' does.

'In the Shadow of the Women' was my next film. Philippe Garrel is 67 and has a very impressive filmography. I failed to understand what motivated him to make this very unoriginal and cinematically inert film. It was very accessible, though, and a lot of people loved it. I didn't like it much.

Watching 'Mistress America' was like going back to a popular Bollywood song after days of Jazz and Sufi and Hindustani Classical. Great characters will always inspire great response from the audience. It is as simple as that. Only, creating such characters, and such scenes, and lines - is so bloody tough. In fact, the closing line of the film, a simple sentence tells us so much about the film, storytelling, and life: "Being a beacon of hope for lesser people is a lonely business!" WOW!!!!

The last film of the day was the Chilean documentary 'The Pearl Button'. Despite being a non-fiction film, it won the Best Script award at Berlin this year and hence I wanted to watch it. The good thing about documentaries is that it is unlikely they will disappoint you. And they always give you something new, to cherish forever. Like I never knew that the map of Chile cannot be accommodated on a school-wall, because of its unusual proportions. So the kids in Chile always know their country divided into three maps!

And now let me come to my pick of the best movie of the festival so far. Belgium's Oscar entry 'The Brand New Testament' is nothing short of must-watch-before-you-die and I am definitely going to recommend (#46) it as one. Do not watch its trailer. Do not go further than seeing its poster attached to this blog-post. Just watch it. I don't think you have ever seen anything like this. Something so incredibly imagined, something so full of beauty and joy and hope. The film makes some big statements, in the most endearing manner. It is like a film I wish I had made. Only, I don't know if I'll ever be able to have the capacity to do that! This is the film that I will remember from this year's festival, and the film that proves yet again why the MAMI week will always be the most eagerly awaited week of the year!

MAMI 2015 Day 2: A Guilty Saturday Morning

How do you forgive yourself when you miss the first show of the day because you were late? And can you ever forgive yourself when that movie is Jafar Panahi's 'Taxi'. I think I can never free myself from this guilt. But let me tell you what happened, in some detail. So that you can help me feel a little better.

This year at the festival, they are doing something really nice. Suppose a movie has to start at 11.15am. They ask the delegates to stand in two queues outside the theatre, one each for those who have reserved the seats two days ago and for those who have not been able to book but are there with the hope to enter if there are any cancellations. Now, about thirty minutes before the scheduled time of the movie, 10.45am in this case, they allow the first queue to enter - those with tickets. By 11am, this queues disappears into the theater. They then count how many seats are still vacant. And then, allow the first few people in the second queue to enter and occupy those seats. So, the ticket holders must reach the venue by 11am. Otherwise, the their seats will go to those who have been waiting in the second queue for more than an hour. Now, I didn't know this - that I will not be allowed to enter, come what may, if I don't reach there by 11am. Had I knew, I would not have entered that unusually-crowded restaurant for breakfast and would have done something imaginative to save myself from the unsual traffic on a Saturday morning. All that had to go wrong, went wrong. And I reached the door to the screen at 11.13am. I was politely asked to join the long queue of people without tickets. And my face fell. I had missed 'Taxi' and it is unlikely that I'll be able to watch it during this festival. Jafar Panahi is not allowed to make films. And he still keeps doing that. And we are supposed to reach on time to watch his film. And I could not.

So, in order to rid myself of this guilt, I rushed to the other theater, twenty minutes away. And I was soon the second person in the 'without ticket' queue for 'Dheepan'. I had some time and there was no one behind me and the staff was cooperative. So entered the running show, which had some empty seats, to catch about half an hour of the documentary on Ingrid Bergman. It is called 'Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words' by Stig Bjorkman and just to be able to see the beautiful goddess, Alicia from 'Notorius' and Ilsa from 'Casablanca', for a few minutes was a treat.

Four movies followed.

'Dheepan' is perhaps the weakest Palme d'Or winning film I have seen in the recent years. It's a good film, for sure. Only, it does not have, in my opinion, what 'Amour' or 'Winter Sleep' or 'Blue is the Warmest Color' or 'The Tree of Life' had. But it had something else. The story of three Sri Lankan characters who reach France and try to make a living there was interspersed with Carnatic classical music, mention of Hindu gods and Indian food, and sari-wearing women. Tamil was the primary language and the faces of the actors made me feel they were not different from Indians, for obvious reasons. Of course, there is a point in the film where the lead actress struggles to explain to her employer that Sri Lanka is not India. And I know it is not. I just felt connected.

'Ixcanul Volcano' was next. Guatemala's Oscar entry this year, the film also won the Alfred Bauer Prize at Berlin Film Festival for openning "new perspectives in cinematic art." I loved the film, especially its writing. This film is also in Competition at MAMI this year and I hope it wins some awards.

'45 Years' was such profoundly moving film, perhaps the best film of the day. But it left me disturbed, once again, and hopeless about the institution of marriage. Looking at the old couple, and actors playing them won the top acting awards at Berlin this year, I often felt how it would be to grow old with someone you love. But the way the movie progressed, and it was brilliant, it again brought my cynicism back. '45 Years' has just postponed any possibility of me getting married anytime soon.

The final film of the day was 'My Golden Days'. It was fine and the tribute to French New Wave was obvious and added to my pleasure. It was my seventh film of the festival in two days, and it is such a low score. But I hope I redeem myself in the next couple of days.