15th Mumbai Film Festival Diary: Day 1

After a wonderful opening ceremony followed by screening of The Butler; the 1st actual day of the festival (or the 2nd day as the organizers refer to) went off pretty well. Various members of MAM were seen to be feverishly making their plans and covering up films of their choice at all the 3 venues- Liberty and Metro at South Mumbai and Cinemax Versova in Andheri. Let’s take a look at what the team feels about the films seen at Day 1 of the 15th Mumbai Film Festival.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Pussy Riot A Punk PrayerOn February 21 2012, five members of of a Russian group ‘Pussy Riot’ , staged a protest song, what they call a punk prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The same church was demolished during the Bolshevik regime. It was rebuilt after the fall of soviet Russia,one of the most important religious place in Russia. And it was the orthodoxy who were discriminated during soviet regime. Now orthodoxy are powerful religious groups, supposedly promoting and protecting Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot members were protesting feminist issues, LGBT rights, policies of Vladimar Putin and mainly opposed support of orthodoxy church to Putin. And obviously they were arrested. And this documentary covers events leading to the event and aftermath.

Masha, Nadia and Katia, three performers, who are charged with criminal charges undergo trial. And filmmaker explores their childhood and upbringing, their political beliefs and consequences of their actions. This is a terrific documentary. This is how a documentary should be. Despite the focus on the group ‘Pussy Riot’ , it also gives orthodoxy a chance to put up their views. It also raises lots of questions about How moral it is to hurt someone’s religious sentiments in the name of protest? Why a religious institution which is politically and socially influenced, should not be targeted by protesters?  What is the definition of a secular state, which protects religious beliefs at any cost or the one who acts irrespective of it?

The documentary  is so well balanced, that a religious Christian would find it to be criticising the group, where as an atheist will find it a powerful story of protest against oppression.

Wajama

Wajama is the name of an Afghan girl, our protagonist. She falls in love with a waiter,  Mustafa and then a hide and seek love story develops in contemporary Afghanistan. It is actually more of a social film than a love story. Wajama gets pregnant and Mustafa disowns it. She is now caught by her angry father and a particular scene where her father beats her up with his belt, is emotionally distressing. Just as the film turns out a little cinematic, the director infuses some realism into it.

Wajama’s father, who has a job to defuse landmines in south Afghanistan, goes back. He tries to talk with Mustafa and ends up beating Mustafa. And on the advice of prosecutor, he decides not to avenge family honor and kill Mustafa. Prosecutor also tells him that if he presses charges against Mustafa, Wajama could also end up in prison. The film shows glimpse of some medieval Afghan laws and even throws light on prosecutors functioning there.

The film is shot on HD camera, not even DSLR and suffers from production value. But the perfomances are pretty good. With better camera and production values, it could have been much better. It also won screenwriting award at the Sundance festival.

Blackfish

BlackfishThis documentary highlights the conflict which happened after the death of Don Brancheau at Seaworld. Seaworld is a leading American chain of marine mammal parks. They are known for stunning and breathtaking Orca shows. But what goes behind it and the  death of expert animal trainer Don Brancheau, blows the lead. It is very traumatic to see how wild Orcas are captured, trained and treated. Although there is mention of Orca being intelligent and a spiritual animal, the documentary oesn’t show much of this aspect. It is more about malpractices at Seaworld than about what drives Tilkum, the killer orca, to do the crime. The screening was  interrupted by a bad Blu Ray projection, so I could be missing something. But when it resumed it wasn’t very satisfying though it was an emotional experience.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

The Keeper of Lost CausesScandinavian thrillers are usually well written and/or made. They have done a good job with it so far. The Keeper of Lost Causes has been garnering rave reviews all across the globe for sometime now. It is a  thriller narrated in non linear way. The film has all the elements which you will see in thriller, a cop coming to terms with his past, a mentally disturbed brother and beautiful girl who is victim of crime. The film’s theme is inspired by Korean hit – Old Boy and the director also pays tribute to Old Boy in one scene. Overall not an original film, nonetheless it keeps you engaged for it’s duration.

In the Name Of

When a film opens with a scene where a bunch of boys without shirts are fooling around, chances are homosexuality is going to pop in at some point. Polish film In the Name Of  by director Malgoska Szumowska (pronounce that!) tackles this theme fairly well.  Most horror films have little purpose but to scare. Similarly the fledgling genre of films on homosexuality aims at little else but shock value. And now it’s not even shocking anymore.  In The Name Of barely registered on the viewer’s consciousness. The only thing it did was to make one a little skeptical on a visit to the Cinemax loo which does not have partitions between urinals :).

The Wait for Elephants

The film wasn’t worth the wait. The DVD was faulty, the movie was slow and there were people among the audience openly snoring. It was yet another take on the world through the eyes of a little boy. But no one left the hall mid way. Why? Because who wants to give up on the cosy comfort of the Red Lounge sofas and roam around in the sun.

Village of Hope

Thai film Village of Hope appeared to be another Uncle Boonmee. But why slot a film on the basis of its country of origin. A soldier returns to his native village to witness the abject lives of his relatives. The arrival of a well to do uncle only underlines the difference. Director Boonsong Nakphoo has shot it in B & W and this serves no apparent purpose. The film ended exactly the way it started. It introduced a lot of interesting characters but never did anything interesting with them.

All is Lost

All is LostIf you think the story of humans stranded at sea has been done to death, you have to see this one. The film begins with a monologue by a weary voiced Robert Redford where he explains his hopeless situation.  He is the only actor in the film so there’s barely any dialogue. Except natural sounds not much background music either.  Just Redford doing what he needs to do to survive a shipwreck. We usually complain when characters aren’t given enough of a back story. Here it makes sense to directly cut to the action. Looks like Uncle Oscar’s going to come a knocking.

Locke

Locke Poster 2Tom Hardy tries to save the day for himself simply by using his car phone and maintaining his sang froid. A one night stand that led to a pregnancy has become due. So has the biggest construction job his company has ever seen. And he also has to break the news about his dalliance to his family. Hardy’s performance and Steven Knight’s dual role as writer, director make this a memorable watch.

Closed Curtain

Closed CurtainWinner of the Best Script award at this years Berlin Film Festival, Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain is a very personal film and reflects the state of mind with which he is currently working. Completely shot in & around a seaside villa, the film has very few characters and eventually brings in a blur between fact and fiction, reality and the not so real World. A little too abstract for comfort, the film also has Jafar Panahi playing himself in the film.

A special screening of Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram was started on time (12 noon) at Liberty Cinema, but 15 minutes into the film the screening was stopped for some technical reasons with a promise of a rescheduled show later.

A master class involving noted French filmmaker Leos Carax where the audience got to hear him talk about his entry into films, all about his various films and his films including the most recent Holy Motors was one of the better aspects of the day.

Qissa

Qissa PosterAnup Singh’s Qissa was one of the anticipated films of this year’s MFF and the film lived up to the expectations generated by the trailer. A tale of a Sikh family led by Irrfan Khan who make the transition from Pakistan to India during the partition and rebuild their lives in the best way possible, or so as they think so, this Punjabi film is wonderfully multi-layered and filled with metaphors, magic realism and wonderful performances from Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome and Rasika Dugal. Definitely a recommended watch.

Blackmail 

This 1929 film from Alfred Hitchcock was an experience indeed as not only was it a digitally restored crystal clear quality print from BFI, it was also accompanied by wonderful live music to go with the mood of the film.

Liar’s Dice

Liar's DiceActress turned filmmaker Geetu Mohandas’ Liar’s Dice has a good premise and wonderful locales (Himachal Pradesh) to boast of. The casting is also spot on as all 3 main actors- Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Gitanjali Thapa and Manya Gupta are wonderful. A simple enough tale that’s more like a road film, the treatment is a bit of a let down and you end up feeling that the promise has not been completely met.

 

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