JIO MAMI 2016 DIARIES: Days 3 & 4

Continuing with our updates for JIO MAMI 2016 here is a brief recap of the films that the MAM team got to watch on days 3 & 4 of the festival. For the updates on days 1 & 2 click here.

The Lovers and The Despot

the-lovers-and-the-despotWhat a nice title this is. Almost as good as Snakes on a Plane. Wish the documentary was as interesting, though. If you narrate the core of a documentary in one line and then have nothing else to look forward to, it won’t be making a nice film. Kim Jong-Il captured a director and an actress, Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee, and used them to further his propaganda for many years before they escaped. Good footage is essential for a good documentary. This one has a very limited stock. Understandable considering it would not have been possible to get much out of North Korea. So instead you have clippings from Shin’s movies as stand-ins. Even the interviews are rather lacklustre. Would perhaps be more interesting to see a fiction film made on the same subject.

Railway Children

railway-childrenRailway Children, directed by Prithvi Konanur, lacks the finesse of a big studio movie but it more than makes it up with its big heart. A runaway boy ends up joining a ragpickers’ gang at a train station. For the next two hours or so, you will meet all kinds of lowlives and encounter the issues street children face. And there is an unexpected twist towards the end too. All child actors are first timers, their rawness, as well as their sincerity, shines through. Make it a point to watch this one.

An Insignificant Man

an-insignificant-manOne minor issue with the film is the familiarity us Indians have with the material. For better or worse AAP’s every move has been subject to public cynosure ever since they launched. Also, this documentary stops after AAP’s giant-killing victory in their first elections at Delhi. Since then, there has been enough material to make an even juicier sequel. Given that, on a stand-alone basis, this is a splendid effort. The entire film consists of what the filmmakers have shot and some news footage, eschewing the interview plus footage format used by most documentarians. The results are terrific. Put together, they form a lucid, cohesive whole. There is space for much mirth too. Necessary viewing, for the AAPtard, Moditard and everyone else. Directed by Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.

Elle

elleTwisted and dark would be apt words for the film. This is not an easy watch for sure. Directed by the one man Dutch film industry- Paul Verhoeven, he is at his peak in this film. This bizarre rape revenge fantasy is one of the best films I have watched at MAMI 2016 this year.

Trauma, stress, hardship… these things can completely break and destroy a person. But, when it doesn’t, the person that comes out the other side is often a marvel of strength and resilience, a sight to be beheld.

This movie is about a woman who gets raped, and then raped again and again, and has a bunch of other misfortunes at the same time… and uses the entire experience to grow beyond all the scars and shortcomings of character that a previous trauma had left on her — all marvellously portrayed by the Isabelle Huppert. It’s not often that a movie can simultaneously be one of the most dark and twisted, and one of the most hopeful and optimistic, in the festival.

Personal Shopper

personal-shopperBest cure for an insomniac like me, slept like a baby in this film.

Oliver Assayas teams up with Kristen Stewart once again after Clouds of Sils Maria and this time the end result is something that’s a little too peculiar and even weird in a way. With a touch of the horror/supernatural element getting added, the film does pick up pace considerably in the middle portion. Alas just when you feel that the rest of the film would remain as interesting as well, the director disappoints us. Its a film that definitely makes you ask questions, but not the ones that you would have ideally preferred to.

The Salesman/Forushande

The Salesman PosterAsghar Farhadi is a superstar of sorts and you realize it when you hear whistles in the auditorium when his name appears on the screen. Asghar Farhadi is the best screenplay writer we have in the 21st century,I feel that no one even comes close to the master. This one is a thriller but not a la Death Wish style, but in unique Farhadi style, and the last act of the film left me spellbound.

Something momentous and devastating happens to a couple, and people start taking decisions based on that — except both the audience and the protagonist are missing an important element of the puzzle that can turn on its head what we think is the right decision.
This is, of course, a description of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. And also this one. This man is so good at this particular setup that he could spend his entire lives making these decision-making-under-uncertainty dramas and create a formidable oeuvre.

Unknown Pleasures

unknown-pleasures“We’re too young to make any real decisions.”
“I’ve heard that a hundred times. From my mother.”
The entire movie is shot from below the characters, with almost no breathing space in the frame above their heads. That combined with the enforced boredom and dimness contributes to a powerfully claustrophobic, soporific experience. Which is all to say that I was fighting off sleep the entire movie.
That’s not an insult, however; the fact that it causes you to sleep is part of the point.

It’s about two teenagers in Berlin who feel like there’s nothing to their lives, who see no prospects for themselves, who’ve reached the peak of their lives and… there’s not much to be said for that peak. This movie is about how they feel. As boring as it may be, it will definitely reward close viewing.

Wild

wolfA woman with a boring life becomes obsessed with a wolf.
This is the sort of stuff the aesthetic of the art movie is good for. This woman is just randomly trying to get at the wolf, we don’t have the slightest idea why, and the movie isn’t going to tell us that. The art film is, primarily, a genre of observation; it thrives on observation, basically fetishises it (see http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1857140.html), but like all weird blinkered strategies it’s one of the best things for some subjects.
For many subjects, in fact, because observe is one of the great things cinema can do in a way that few other art forms can. But cinematic observation is especially, almost freakishly, for one thing: weird states of mind. And I don’t mean insane I mean weird, just plain incomprehensible. Here’s Venkat Rao at http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2016/09/22/speak-weirdness-to-truth/ explaining something like what I have in mind:
“By my account and understanding of it, weirdness is not so much a feeling as that state of not knowing what to feel. There can be no static emoji for it. At best you could make an animated gif that cycles through several emotions to represent the state of emotional indeterminacy that is ‘weirded out.’ I’d put 😟, 😦, 😐, and😠 in the cycle (note, depending on where you read this post, these may not render exactly as I intend, which is part of the fun). You can say more: weirdness is also the experience of not knowing what to think. “
 

And well, this film is weird; like, basically incomprehensible at the level of basic moment-to-moment motivational causality. But it is in its unexplained weirdness that it is wonderful, and likely one of the more rewarding watches of the festival.It’s these sorts of movies that no respectable critic will call a must-watch and the only efficient strategy for seeking out which is going to a festival and making random selections.

Lady of the Lake

lady-of-the-lakeIt’s really good. It’s based on a short story, and feels like it; it has that spareness of point that novels are afraid to have. But in this case, since it’s clearly an attempt to market the village/tribe/both (I don’t know how to classify it) the very spareness gives the fimmakers space to depict that more plot might not have allowed, and at least for me one of the primary pleasures of going to film festival is watching depictions of unfamiliar societies.

Aquarius

aquariusThis Brazilian takes us through the life and times of Clara,now a 65 year old widow and a retired music critic. She lives her life on her terms and engages in a battle against a powerful opponent, a real estate company which wants to buy her apartment. Wonderfully shot and a little bold in terms of the topical nature of the film, this is one of the better films on display at the festival this year.

Lost in Paris

lost-in-parisOne of the few out and out fun entertainers of this year’s MAMI, the film revolves around 3 characters- Fiona who is in Paris for the first time, Martha the aunt of Fiona and a homeless man Dom. Over a period of a few days their lives interconnect over some bizarre incidents making the audience laugh. It’s nice to see a film like this especially after something very intense/dark/serious.

Una 

unaA young woman decides to pay a visit to an older man at his workplace. They happen to know each other from the past, but this is more than just a courtesy visit and their meeting goes on to revive memories of the past. A plot that is not out of the box and quite clearly a film with decent commercial prospects, with the star cast including Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn and Riz Ahmed, this is a strange inclusion at the festival this year. Not a bad watch, but then this is very unlike a festival film.

After the Storm

after-the-stormRyota is a one time prize winning author who now works as a private detective and is addicted to gambling. He loves his son but struggles to pay child support. His ex-wife seems to have moved on in his life but Ryota is unable to come to terms with his divorce and the mess that he is in. One stormy night Ryota, his ex-wife and their son land up at Ryota’s mother’s place, giving them a chance to foster their bond once again. This is easily among the top 5 films of this year’s MAMI and Hirokazu Koreeda has come up with a wonderful slice of life tale through this film. Thankfully the film steers clear of emotional melodrama and there is some subtle humour on display as well. The performances are amazing, making the film a treat to watch.

Sila Samayangalil

sila-samayangalilWhile Priyadarshan is more known for his comedy entertainers, he has also made us notice his talent in the form of serious films like Kaala Pani and Kanchivaram. Close on the heels of the success of his recent Malayalam film Oppam was the news of his forthcoming Tamil film, Sila Samayangalil undertaking the film festival round. And hence I was curious to watch the film. Shot in just 16 days, the tale is largely restricted to one location, the not so comforting confines of a medical diagnostic laboratory. The story revolves around a day in the lab where various people have gathered to get their medical test reports. This is a well written and executed film, Ilaiyaraaja’s BGM is suitably subtle and that helps. The performances are fantastic, Prakash Raj, Ashok Selvan and M.S.Bhakar doing very well. It feels good to see Priyadarshan come up with a film like this, definitely not his best but one of his better films indeed.

Chhatrabhang

A 1970s movie about caste directed by a woman? I’m so down, I thought!

Then I walked into the screening, and there was the director speaking in that refined rich Mumbaikar accent telling us that the interesting thing about this movie was the way she constructed and deconstructed, and we should forget our preconceptions of what a movie should be like. Already, a sinking feeling. And then, the first bit of the movie was this simultaneously-bullshit-and-trivial epigram featuring the phrase “to perceive cognitively.” Yup, I thought.

The movie itself turned out to be pretty good, though, though with some caveats. It’s about this completely generic village with 80% Dalits, sorry Shudras, and 20% Brahmins (I don’t think she knew the difference between jati and varna but let’s leave that out) in which the Dalits’ well runs out of water. And, while most filmmakers would have elected to show the story happening, this movie is just the villagers walking around and occasionally making strained faces while the events are narrated by Amrish Puri aka the thing that Morgan Freeman was copied from.

And it’s still pretty good mind you. The images flow well, the sound plays its non-trivial part in holding the movie together, Amrish Puri is a treat.

It’s just… there’s literally no specificity. She literally spoke to some villagers in Maharashtra, and set the movie in UP. I mean, it was the 70s and she must have been a young city girl so props on doing the interviewing. But still, the question comes: how is this movie better than a newspaper article. Answer: good imagery. Okay, but in what way is it better than a newspaper article that I can treasure at both an emotional and intellectual level — the way I learned about phrum in Lady of the Lake just before this, for one example? Answer: not at all.

She’s literally thrown away one of the most powerful ways in which cinema can connect an audience and a subject! Which is fine, movies don’t have to be what I want them to be, but this movie ends up not being very substantial. Now, one reason movies throw away specificity is mass appeal. For whatever reason, people making commercial movies like putting in generic places. But, you know, literally nothing about this movie is designed for mass appeal. It’s all a very self-consciously arty aesthetic — a lot of stylistic heavy machinery for conveying very obvious things that would likely have been conveyed better in other ways.

That concludes the charitable movie review part of this. Because, after the movie, there was a Q&A, and… this woman is a marvellous bullshit artist, despite obviously having some skill in putting a movie together. Further, when asked if the film had ever been shown to the pbulic in India, her response was: “you mean NCPA? Yeah!” This tells you something, but I don’t know what. The point not being ad hominem but my sad prediciton that this over-stylisation of insubstantial subjects is characteristic of her and is going to continue marking her films.

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