JIO MAMI 2016 DIARIES: Days 1 & 2

Come October, cinephiles are excited for the Mumbai Film Festival.This year the festival is playing from Colaba to Mulund, almost covering the whole part of Mumbai. Here’s the list of films which we saw on the first two days.  The MAM Team which will be attending the fest will share their thoughts regularly.

Old Stone

old-stoneA taxi driver hits a motorcyclist and he ends up in a coma. Due to a technicality, the insurance won’t cover the victim and the driver’s conscience won’t allow him to ignore the injured. He ends up footing the heavy medical bills even if it means straining his own personal finances. Gradually, a few twists are introduced and director Johnny Ma takes the film to a nice crescendo from where multiple endings are possible, to keep the audiences guessing. But in place of a neat resolution, Ma stretches the climax beyond what is required and undoes all the good of the first half. There are humorous moments when you see Chinese bureaucracy at work. With a better ending, this could have been a much better film.

Godless

godlessThe film deals with complex themes…guilt, fetishes, addiction, a sex-less relationship, all in the same stone cold fashion. The lead actress has clearly been asked to wear the same expression throughout the movie. She plays a nurse, who goes through life with the aforementioned complications. Some of the visuals are stunning, but the movie itself is too slow to hold your interest. Directed by Ralitza Petrova.

Barakah Meets Barakah Dir- Mahmoud Sabbagh

barakah-meets-barakahThis is the first self-financed Saudi film. It is interesting that a rom-com has come out of Saudi Arabia. The film has some rough edges, but I am ignoring it, considering that they hardly have any filmmaking culture. Barakah meets Barakh is a classic tale of rich girl meets poor boy, here the twist is that even to meet they have to go to extreme lengths. It is a film which showcases the difficulty of human interaction between opposite genders in the state of Saudi, I am surprised that the film was passed by censors of Saudi. Do watch.

The Road to Mandalay

the-road-to-mandalayI watched Midi Z’s Poor Folk back in 2012, and I was extremely impressed by how well he just simply depicted people’s lives, and made that depiction arresting. So, I naturally assumed that this movie would be a great way to begin the festival.
And, for a while, it did seem that way. Midi Z introduces an interesting and varied cast and shows snippets of their lives, and it’s all deeply fascinating.
But then, we realise that this movie is only about one person, and that person is… well, a black box. I don’t know very much about her beyond the one drive that drives the plot. And overall the dramatic construction of the plot is inept, though the theme is well-conveyed, leading to a denouement that feels expected intellectually but out of nowhere emotionally. It’s not too often one gets to say that a movie was ruined by having too much plot.
Swiss Army Man
swiss-army-manI was told to watch this movie by film crit hulk (http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/06/30/the-daniels-are-the-most-exciting-young-directors-on-the-planet), and so you can imagine that it was an awesome ride.
For most of its running time this is an inventive, fun and subtle film that rewards deeper thought (unless it’s about the physics).

A lot of the effect is ruined by a piece of information at the end that somehow cheapens the thrust of this movie, however.

Maudite Poutine/Shambles
There’s a type of person who likes to insult art cinema. This movie is exactly the sort of thing that person is talking about.
Art movies are often “slow.” There are long stretches spent on impressions, feelings, reactions, contemplation instead of the plot.
In a good art movie, however, this space *actually serves a role.* It’s actually making a point with every moment, the action actually stops when it wants you to think about the action. Because of this, a good art movie has a much tighter dramatic structure than an equivalently good commercial movie, but it’s often not obvious.
“Aht” movie is my private term for the sort of movie that apes the aesthetics of arrt movies without understanding its purpose.
Maudite Putine is a crowning achievement in aht cinema.
shamblesThe protagonist has absolutely no interesting characteristics (“so that we can imagine ourselves into the situation,” no doubt), the entirety of the dramatic stakes is caused by a macguffin whose existence is only recalled when convenient, entire subplots and secondary characters just fall away because and you know a car door not having a handle is Symbolism because the mention of this fact blends in with all the subtlety of a tree in the sea. This movie is so dramatically inept that the only music the filmmakers can imagine when something is actually happening is a searing atonal shriek.
All that said, however, 90% of everything is terrible, and this is exactly the sort of terrible we go to film festivals for.
Watching one of these on the first day feels a little like coming home.

Austerlitz

austerlitzAlmost the single worst way I can think of to convince anyone of the idiocy of tourism is to make a documentary that just points its cameras at tourists in Austerlitz and plays this footage for one and a half hours.
Even one and a half hours of a stuttering toothless yeda wearing a garbage bag explaining the fact that the experience is an extremely packaged and stupid one citing the hand gestures at http://criticalhandgestures.tumblr.com/ for authority will convince more people.
The sad part is, this movie has such excellent cinematography and sound design, and it’s so effective when it actually injects a modicum of drama into the proceeding, that it’s hundreds of times more captivating than it has any right to be. One wonders what a wonderful movie it would have been if the director had actually thought about his audience.
But yes, coming back to the point, it’s weirdly captivating; out of the forty-odd people sitting in my view, around five walked out. Almost everyone who sat in the movie watched the entire thing. To what extent it was the capitivatingness (?), to what extent it was academic interest in finishing this movie (my reason for watching the entire thing, or at least so I tell myself), and to what extent the audience was conned by the Importance, is entirely unclear to me.
The Lure/Corki Dancingu
the-lureFive minutes in, the movie felt like what you would get if a Bollywood movie was copied by a Hollywood movie was copied by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali was copied by 1960s polish “Sexmission”-style SF types. Also, it’s called “Corki Dancingu.”
If that doesn’t make you want to watch it, what can I even say.
Unfortunately, the movie can’t really seem to decide on an effect that it wants to have and ends up feeling rather haphazard and underwhelming.

Which is such a pity, because it has such high highs that having such a low average almost seems like a betrayal.

Neruda

nerudabiopic960x545Every person has a different experience of the world, and the ability to speak to a large swath of the world is necessarily a combination of specificity — talking about actual things that happened so that people’s varying value judgements don’t come in the way — and vagueness — not being so specific that people’s varying value judgements don’t come in the way.
This movie, about a young policeman who’s trying to capture Pablo Neruda is a great exploration of how the world is edited into that region of connectability. One of the most thematically rich films I’m likely to encounter at MAMI.
And, quite apart from a really strong narrative and thematic thrust which would on its own keep the drama going, this movie is unusually literate in technique, using “more advanced” elements of intensified continuity sparingly and in a strictly supporting role to give the movie an almost breathtaking pace without it actually being fast.

(Also, it serves as a great companion to the two books I’ve been reading over the past few days, James C Scott’s “Seeing like a State” and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Antifragile.”)

I, Daniel Blake
I,Daniel Blake PosterThis is a greatly accomplished and arresting movie that I find it hard to get too excited about.
In form, it’s basically an indictment of the system. Which system, you ask? “Arre,… that one you know perfectly well only no.”
Bureaucracy is bad, people are good and kind, have you finished your popcorn yet?

As Ashwin Mazdur pointed out, it could have ended 15 minutes earlier than it did and been a significantly more interesting statement. But, you know, it didn’t; so there.

Goodbye Berlin/Tschick
goodbye-berlin-posterNoted filmmaker Fatih Akin’s tale of 2 adolescent kids and their coming of age thanks to a wild summer is quite a fun film indeed. It may not offer much food for thought but then it makes for a light viewing and is a stress buster of sorts, something that is always welcome especially if you have been watching some intense films the whole day.

Clash/Eshtebak

clash-posterOne of the most impressive films of the festival this year, this Egyptian film by Mohamed Diab focuses on a day in June 2013 when political instability was at its peak in the country. Set entirely in the confines of a police van , this 97 minute film is an edge of the seat ride all the way. With some impressive cinematography and wonderful writing this is definitely one of the must watch films this year.

Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Waithema-hema

This was the first film that I watched at this year’s MAMI and I must say that it was a great start indeed. While the premise did sound interesting, nothing actually prepared me for the kind of impressive writing and visuals that the film actually carries. It’s also a surprise that such a well made film that beautifully captures the cultural context of the country has come in from Bhutan, it wonderfully weaves in fantasy and spirituality into the tale. A group of people (pre selected) come together in the woods for 15 days of liberating and rejuvenating anonymity, a ritual that happens once in 12 years. Something goes wrong during one such event, going on to bring in a chain effect later on. Lama/filmmaker Khyentse Norbu is a talent to watch out for.

a-death-in-the-gunj-posterA Death in the Gunj

Konkona Sen Sharma makes her directorial debut with this film, the trailer of which has already evoked a lot of curiosity already. Based on a short story by Mukul Sharma the film is set in the colonial town of McCluskieganj in the winter of 1979. A family is on a vacation and the group has a curious mix of people. What was intended as a quiet holiday goes on to become something that the family had never been prepared for. It might not be a landmark film but it is definitely well written and boasts of some good acting from an impressive star cast (Vikrant Massey, Om Puri, Tanuja, Ranvir Shorey, Gulshan Devaiah, Tillotama Shome, Jim Sarbh, Arya Sharma). It is a good debut for Konkona

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